Larry Bird is stepping down as president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers, a stunningly abrupt move by an NBA legend known for making swift decisions.
Bird made the call on Friday and general manager Kevin Pritchard will be elevated to take his place, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the move, which was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
Bird leaves the Pacers ahead of a pivotal summer in which the franchise will have to decide what to do with star forward Paul George. He can become a free agent after next season and there is wide speculation that he would prefer to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers will have to decide whether to try to persuade him to stay long term or trade him.
Bird was the executive of the year in 2012 for helping the franchise rebuild from the wreckage of the “Malice at the Palace,” the ugly scene in Detroit that saw players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal fighting with the Pistons fans. Bird stepped down as the team’s top executive the summer after winning that award only to return a year later.
He helped build the team into a contender in the Eastern Conference with back-to-back trip to the conference finals in 2013 and 2014. But the Pacers have taken a step back in the last two years and were swept out of the first round this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, a major point of frustration for George, one of the league’s most versatile stars.
George has not hesitated to make his displeasure with the direction of the franchise known, setting up for what is sure to be a tense summer of talks and decisions that need to be made.
Now Pritchard will be driving that bus. Long one of the more respected executives in the league, he left the Portland Trail Blazers after disagreements with owner Paul Allen in 2010 and joined the Pacers front office in 2011.