Report: Bird To Reject Pacers' Post

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Larry Bird will reject an offer to remain with the Indiana Pacers and retire, The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday.

Bird, who has insisted he would retire as the Pacers' coach following this season, had been offered a position in the team's front office, as head of basketball operations.

Bird met with team president Donnie Walsh on Wednesday, but neither commented on the meeting. Walsh told The Star he wanted to speak with Bird before making a formal announcement, perhaps Thursday.

Pacers' staff and players had been assuming for several weeks that Bird would return to Naples, Fla., where he lived for five years after retiring as a player. He had maintained a home and business interests there while coaching the Pacers.

Bird said in February he was ''90 percent'' certain he would retire. He later backed off that.

But following Monday's loss to Los Angeles in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he said he was leaning toward going to Florida.

Bird was given the opportunity to take over the Pacers' basketball operations when he signed a contract to coach the team three years ago, with Walsh staying on to negotiate contracts and direct the front office.

Bird would have had the option of succeeding Walsh as team president after Walsh retired.

Sources close to Bird told The Star he had more interest in owning a franchise than working for one as an executive.

Bird has expressed interest in putting together a group to buy the Boston Celtics and said during the season he would prefer to own the Pacers because they are playing in a new arena, Conseco Fieldhouse. But neither team is for sale.

Bird received a 2 percent ownership share of the Pacers for each of the three seasons he coached. He has not discounted the possibility of returning to an NBA team in some capacity.

Meanwhile, the offseason may be just as tough for the Pacers as their Game 6 loss to the Lakers.

Not only must Walsh find a new coach, he also must deal with six free agents, four of them starters.

First comes next week's draft without knowing which players — if any — he will have to replace.

``As far as the players, you can't do anything until July 1,'' Walsh said of the earliest date allowed by the league for teams to negotiate with free agents. ``So the first two things coming up will be the coach and the draft.''

If Bird had stayed with the team, it might have worked to the advantage of assistant coach Rick Carlisle, a former teammate of Bird's in Boston. But, if Bird leaves as reported, Walsh might be inclined to bring in Isiah Thomas or former Pacers player Byron Scott, now an assistant in Sacramento.

Walsh also expects to hear from others interested in succeeding Bird.

With the third-best record in the NBA — behind the Lakers and Portland — the Pacers will pick 27th in the first round Wednesday. But it's not necessary to have a new coach in place by then, Walsh said.

The uncertainty involves starters Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Jalen Rose and Rik Smits, whose contracts expire July 1. Austin Croshere and Sam Perkins, two of the top reserves, also will become free agents, and Perkins, 39, has said he likely will retire.

Smits, bothered for several years by sore feet, also has considered retirement.