Larry Bird is bringing a new perspective to the Pacers.
After watching from afar as the team he rebuilt reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in nine years and came within one victory of dethroning NBA champion Miami, Bird thinks he has a pretty good idea what it will take to lead Indiana to its first league title.
“My dreams, my goals are set pretty high,” he said after being reintroduced as the team’s president of basketball operations Thursday. “I know how hard it is to win a championship. It’s tough. But when you have guys who stick together, who play together, who share the basketball and care about one another, it’s a hell of a start.”
It didn’t take Bird long to provide a glimpse of what might be different this time around.
While he concurred with his successor and predecessor Donnie Walsh and general managerKevin Pritchard that the team’s top offseason priority is to re-sign free agent David West – the power forward Bird signed two years ago to toughen up the team — the blunt-talking Bird explained he’s ready to improve the team’s bench.
That’s something fans complained about long and often all season.
Walsh and others inside the organization didn’t exactly see things the same way. When Walsh last took questions at a season-ending news conference two weeks ago, the soon-to-be-reassigned team consultant said the bench essentially performed in the playoffs about as well as the front office expected.
Bird wants to changes things up.
“One glaring need that I see is our bench,” he said. “The bench didn’t step up and play as well as we expected, so we have to upgrade that area, and we don’t have a lot of money, so we’ll have to be creative.”
Officially, Bird won’t start working until Monday.
Clearly, though, the only man to win the league’s awards for MVP, coach of the year and executive of the year knows his stuff.
He won three NBA titles as a player and, as Indiana’s coach, led the Pacers to their only Finals appearance in 2000. He retired after that season because of health problems then returned to the Pacers front office in 2003. Bird worked alongside Walsh for the first five years before assuming control in 2008 when Walsh left for New York.
All Bird did since then was lay the groundwork to rebuild a team that had been reeling since the brawl in Detroit and Reggie Miller’s retirement, creating the foundation for one of the league’s younger teams to become a legitimate title contender.
While taking a one-year sabbatical, Bird was never far from the game that turned him from a small-town hot shot into a household name.
He kept close tabs on his team, joking Thursday that he could tell how the Pacers were doing simply by listening to his wife. He took notes, texted players repeatedly throughout the season and even attended a few games in Indianapolis, usually sitting next to Walsh.