8.03.2013

New coach needs Bird on hand

May 8, 1997

Assuming the Celtics still have enough employees to stage an event of this magnitude, the coronation of Rick Pitino is scheduled for 1 p.m. today in the New Garden.

Pitino will deliver his inaugural address and Paul "Thanksdad" Gaston should be on hand to accept congratulations from the starving citizenry of Celtic Nation.

The Celts have a chair reserved for godfather Red Auerbach (which makes Pitino a perfect Michael Corleone). If the Celtics are smart - and suddenly, we've all concluded that Thanksdad is very smart indeed - they'll line the New Garden halls with Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, and anyone else who can remind us of past glories.

Too bad Larry Bird won't be here to join Team Pitino. In these Heady Days Of Rick - when the grim reality of Pervis Ellison, Dino Radja, guaranteed contracts, and inevitable 105-81 losses to the Nets is still six months away - it's easy to forget that the Celtics are ready to lose one of their most valuable assets.

It's amazing how quick folks are to say goodbye to Larry now that Pitino is on board. And it's also a mistake.

It's difficult to know how Bird feels about leaving the Celtics and taking a better offer in Indiana. We live in Massachusetts, where the Lodges speak only to the Cabots and Bird speaks only to Bob Ryan. Bird hasn't announced a decision yet, but from what we've been able to gather, Larry is suddenly in love with the idea of coaching the Indiana Pacers in exchange for $ 4.5 million salary and a piece of the team. Folks in the know say it's a done deal.

Perhaps this is true, but I choose to believe that Bird could be persuaded to stay with the Celtics if he heard the right words from Thanksdad and Pitino.

Pitino
Tuesday said he planned to talk with Bird immediately. Last month Pitino said he would be interested in Boston only if Bird was part of the picture. So hopefully, they have talked, and Rick asked Larry to be part of Team Pitino.

Naturally, power would be a huge issue. Bird can call all the shots in Indiana. He wouldn't want to come here and be a yes man for a 44-year-old college coach who never played a day in the NBA. Pitino, meanwhile, left a great gig in Kentucky and didn't come to Boston to get overruled on draft day (unless Bob Kraft buys the Celtics) by a living legend with no coaching or personnel experience.

But common sense says Pitino should be able to work with Bird without making Larry feel like a glorified greeter at the New Garden. These are two good basketball minds. The New Garden is big enough for both.

Not knowing what Pitino and Gaston have told Bird, it's difficult to weigh Larry's interest in the Pacers. A piece of ownership, $ 4.5 million per, plus total control of a stable franchise in his home state sounds pretty good. But the Pacers want Bird to coach, and this is a prescription for disaster.

We know Bird is bored. He's only 40 years old and hasn't worked in five years. How much golf can one man stand? He's got to get out of the house, and an occasional walk-on role in "Space Jam" isn't enough to fuel his competitive nature. He sees Kevin McHale succeeding as general manager in Minnesota and says to himself, "Shoot, I know more basketball than Kev. I could do that."

But coaching? In the NBA? In 1998?

It would be everything Bird hates. He'd have to deal with spoiled young millionaires who think the world owes them - players with cell phones and beepers going on in the locker room at halftime. He'd have to talk to the media every day. He'd have to put his healing back to the test, flying to San Antonio and Portland and the swamps of New Jersey. He'd have to work the killer hours that transformed a nice guy like Pat Riley into a gaunt, self-important lunatic.

And for what? Money?

Bird's already got more money than God. I believe he's still got the 160 bucks he made off me in a free throw shooting contest in 1985.

He wants to come back to the NBA because he wants to do something important again and he wants to compete and he wants to make a basketball team better than it was before he arrived.

He could still do that here. He could still be part of the resurrection of the Boston Celtics, which is starting today. Pitino and Thanksdad should delay today's mega-press session until they can work something out with Larry. Soon it will be too late.

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