Larry leaning toward coaching Pacers

May 8, 1997

While the Indiana Pacers are fully expecting the arrival of Larry Bird as their new coach, the fact he had not given the club a final answer last night left the door open slightly for Bird to remain with the Celtics.

Though he received a pitch to stay from new Celtic leader Rick Pitino, Bird has continued to work out a deal with the Pacers to become their coach and eventually move into a front office position. Sources said last night that "just a few fine points" remain to be worked out on his Indiana contract.

"He may still be talking to the Celtics, but everything with the Pacers is moving in the right direction," said the source. "As of right now, they're figuring they may be able to do something public on Friday."

Word is that Bird will likely follow through with Indiana but doesn't want to get in the way of Pitino's grand opening at the FleetCenter today.

But another person very close to Bird insists the ex-Celtic great has concerns about taking on the role of head coach.

"He's said a few times that he's not really sure he's ready for this," said the source.

"This is a pretty big step, and once he commits to something like this, he's not the kind of guy who's going to turn back."

Bird told the Herald late Tuesday he was still weighing whether it would be best for him to work on the sideline or behind the scenes. Pitino gave him the second option, though even as general manager with the Celts or in whatever title he chose, he would still have to defer to Pitino on all personnel matters.

Celtic president Red Auerbach has been bothered at times this year with Bird being so candid in his criticism of the courses of action being taken by the front office. Still, Auerbach remains a strong supporter of the legendary forward.

"I think he'd do better as a coach, although he'll do pretty good as a manager," Auerbach said. "He'll do well at anything because he's bright and he's very motivated. When he has a purpose to do something, he does it.

"As a coach, you're right out there and you're working with the players. As a general manager, you're dealing with other guys who may not want to deal with you."

Though some may see Bird duplicating services in a Celtic role, the club is well aware that he has a lot to contribute in terms of expertise. He has proven himself to be a good judge of talent in draft preparation the last few seasons.

But where Bird could truly be of benefit to the Celts is in recruitment, as the NBA moves into a new personnel phase based on the rookie wage scale. Because the length of contracts first-round draft picks now receive is a maximum three years, beginning in the summer of 1998 there will be yearly deposits of good young talent on the free agent market. And while Pitino is an extremely strong basketball personality, a call from Bird could help the Celtics immensely as they seek to rebuild a club coming off the worst season in franchise history (15-67).

On the other hand, the Pacers have confirmed their offer to Bird, and the fact the club has not been making moves in the market to fill the vacancy left by Larry Brown would indicate they are prepared to get their top choice.

"They've discussed all the aspects of the job with (Bird)," said the Indiana source. "They really believe he's going to do a great job for them. The only question is whether he really wants to do it. They think he does, but until they hear that definitively from Larry, there's that small chance that things won't work out."

Bird admitted Tuesday in a talk with the Herald that "The Pacers are probably getting a little antsy about this, but I have to make sure of what I'm doing."

He told the Indianapolis Star: "I just feel if I'm going to get in, I might as well try it now. Either do it or shut your mouth and stay retired."

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