Larry Bird

Central Notes: Thompson, George, Pacers, Valentine

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson wasn’t happy about the fact that a report surfaced last week anonymously quoting three of his teammates who were critical of John Beilein‘s head coaching style. Thompson came to Beilein’s defense over the weekend and fired back at the teammates quoted in that report, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

“Y’all better find them names ’cause I’ll pull up on ’em right now,” Thompson said. “You can’t do that s–t. At the end of the day if you’re going to build a culture and a family, you can’t have that Chatty Patty s–t going on. That s–t is whack to me.

“Everyone’s got to look in the mirror, there’s only so much coach can do and there’s only so much we can do,” Thompson continued. “Do we have the best roster in the NBA? No. But we’re going to go out there and compete every night. Guys got to look in the mirror. So I hope whoever reported that was just bulls——g and blamed it on a player.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • After getting a rough reception from Pacers fans on Sunday, Paul George said he’s not the one those fans should be booing. What exactly did he mean? “The belief in Indiana is that he’s referring to Larry Bird,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week on an episode of The Jump (video link). Bird, now an advisor in Indiana, was formerly the team’s president of basketball operations and pushed George to move from small forward to power forward, something PG13 didn’t want to do, as Windhorst details.
  • Speaking of the Pacers, they look like they could become a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference once they get Victor Oladipo back in their lineup, writes Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer.
  • It has been up-and-down season so far for Denzel Valentine, who was out of the Bulls‘ rotation until late November. As Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago notes, Valentine has been playing his best ball of the year recently, making at least three 3-pointers and scoring in double-digits in each of his last three games. The 26-year-old shooting guard will be a restricted free agent at season’s end.

Pacers’ Pritchard Talks Matthews, Roster, More

While Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard makes the final call on the team’s personnel moves, a pair of Indiana’s former heads of basketball operations remain very much in the loop, Pritchard tells Steve Aschburner of NBA.com.

According to Pritchard, he works with advisors Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird on a “daily basis.” Calling both men “true mentors,” Pritchard notes that Walsh is on the office every day, while Bird gets “very involved” in the summer and fall.

Within his conversation with Aschburner, Pritchard touched on a number of other subjects, discussing the Pacers’ approach to free agency, the excellent job head coach Nate McMillan has done with the club, and Victor Oladipo‘s rehab, among other topics. For Pacers fans, the conversation is worth reading in full, but here are a few highlights from the team’s president of basketball operations:

On the sales pitch that allowed the Pacers to land Wesley Matthews last month:

“He saw opportunity, right? We needed a starting two. And there was continuity with just knowing Nate and how he coaches, his style [Matthews and McMillan were together in Portland for a season and a half]. And from what he’s told us, he saw us, he played against us and he liked the way we play. But it became a recruiting process, for sure. He had a lot of options.”

On what the Pacers have gotten out of 2018’s free agent signees (Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, and Kyle O’Quinn):

“They fit in nicely. They all made it clear that they wanted to come in, play a role and do it as well as they possibly could. Kyle is a great backup center, and we’ve asked him to be the third center. We’ve needed him, because Sabonis is going to be out for a little bit. McDermott, as he gets comfortable here and learns to seek out his offense, the better he’s going to be. And Tyreke, he’s had some ups and downs. But when he plays well, we’re a different team. We need that punch off the bench, and that’s something we focused on when he got him.”

On the impact of having so many free-agents-to-be on the roster:

“It’s good in that guys are pretty motivated. I’ve believed in this team. We’re going to be challenged in the playoffs and it will be fun watching them, but we’ve got to get there first. I don’t want to look too far in the future. We know we’re going to have some tough decisions this summer. But I believe 40% of the league will be free agents, so it’s not only our issue. It’s a league issue and an opportunity.”

On the Pacers’ long-standing aversion to tanking (Indiana hasn’t won fewer than 32 games in a season since 1988/89):

“You’ve got to give [team owner] Herb [Simon] a ton of credit. He’s not the kind of guy who says, ‘Let’s tank and look to the future in three years.’ We’re not about that. “

Central Notes: Love, Bird, Caldwell-Pope

Matchups in the first two rounds have limited Kevin Love‘s role throughout the playoffs thus far but that could change in the Eastern Conference Finals, Tom Withers of the Associated Press writes. Currently the Cavaliers await the winner of the Wizards and Celtics.

After having averaged 19 points per game during the regular season, Love’s average dropped to 12 in the Cavaliers’ four-game sweep of the Raptors. What’s more, the power forward didn’t even play in the fourth quarter in two of those victories.

Some of it’s my fault because we haven’t really featured him a lot because of the matchups we had on other teams,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said. “He has been great. His whole mindset is winning and that’s what it’s all about in the playoffs.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Although there’s been a transfer of power in the Pacers‘ organizational chart, Larry Bird remains involved in the offseason planning at the behest of newly appointed team president Kevin Pritchard, Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star writes. Bird serves as an executive advisor with the franchise.
  • The Pacers will work out a batch of draft prospects early next week, the team announced on its website, including college stars Jordan Bell and Josh Hart.
  • The Pistons are in a tough spot with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s pending restricted free agency, Bobby Marks of the Vertical writes. The 24-year-old could sign a lofty offer sheet with another organization, forcing the club to flirt with the luxury tax if they wish to retain him. Choosing not to retain him, however, won’t free up enough cap space for a suitable replacement.

And-Ones: Scola, Gay, India, Bird, Combine

Luis Scola‘s first and only season in Brooklyn came to an early end in February when the Nets waived him shortly after the trade deadline. At the time, it seemed like the lottery-bound Nets were giving the veteran big man a chance to catch on with another team on the buyout market, but Scola has remained unsigned since then, and admitted last month that his NBA career could be over.

Speaking this week about his future, Scola suggested that he doesn’t want to retire, but admitted he doesn’t have a ton left in the tank. According to the 37-year-old, he’s not overly eager to sign with a team in Argentina, and if he were to head to Europe, it’d be “tough” for him to play for a team besides Baskonia in Spain (link via Orazio Cauchi of Sportando). Baskonia employed several other former Nets this past season, including Chase Budinger, Andrea Bargnani, Tornike Shengelia, and Shane Larkin.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders suggests that the Celtics, Thunder, and Clippers could be logical landing spots for Rudy Gay, who will opt out of his contract with the Kings this summer.
  • Looking to expand its international reach, the NBA opened a new basketball academy in India on Tuesday, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com details. The academy will train top male and female scholarship players from the country, and NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum tells Youngmisuk that he feels like India could be “the next China” for the NBA. “There are some elite prospects here who we think have an opportunity,” Tatum said of India. “One of the reasons why it is so important is that we are going to give them exposure to world-class NBA-type coaching and training and development to make sure they are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
  • In the wake of the resignation from his role as the Pacers‘ president of basketball operations, is Larry Bird done in the NBA? Scott Agness of VigilantSports.com takes a look at what’s next for the Hall-of-Famer and longtime executive.
  • With this year’s NBA draft combine getting underway in Chicago, Adam Zagoria of FanRagSports.com identifies five key combine-related storylines to watch in the next few days.

Eastern Notes: Lowry, Rose, Magic

Kyle Lowry has seven days from the date of the Raptors’  final playoff game to make a decision on his player option for next season, Bobby Marks of The Vertical notes. Lowry is expected to test the free agent market and Toronto must figure out what kind of offer would make sense. In addition to Lowry, the team will also have to worry about retaining Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, and Patrick Patterson.

The team has roughly $76MM in guaranteed contracts on the books for next season. Re-signing all their players may be difficult, but finding replacements on the market with only $25MM of cap space will be an even harder feat.

Here’s more from the Eastern Conference:

  • Derrick Rose, who will be a free agent this summer, will likely need to take a short-term deal and prove he’s healthy, Marks adds in the same piece. The scribe adds that Rose may be best suited to play off the ball at this point in his career.
  • The Magic are looking for a strong presence to lead the basketball operations side of the front office while CEO Alex Martins runs the business side, sources tell Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. It was previously reported that Orlando may try to poach Larry Bird for that role, however, Bontemps believes that kind of move is unlikely for the former Celtics great.
  • Terrence Ross, who was sent to the Magic mid-season, is embracing the challenge of helping Orlando get back to the NBA’s second season, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes. “Everything counts when you’re trying to make it to the playoffs or chase the trophy,” Ross said. “It’s a whole bunch of things that goes into it. You’ve got to make sure you’re playing the game right with pure heart, understand what it takes to win. I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out here.”

Larry Bird Explains Decision To Resign

Larry Bird made the decision to step down as president of basketball operations for the Pacers before the season began, tweets Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports.

Speaking to reporters today in Indianapolis, Bird said he informed team executives Kevin Pritchard and Peter Dinwiddie that this would be his last season in the position. The move wasn’t health related, Bird said, adding, “It’s a pretty easy decision … It’s just time to go.” (Twitter link).

Bird will remain with the organization as an advisor to Pritchard, the new team president. He plans to do some scouting for the Pacers — at the NBA, college and international levels — and will be a consultant to the upper management team when asked. “The one thing I don’t want to do is get in Kevin’s way,” Bird said. “That’s the last thing I want to do.” (Twitter link)

Bird touched on several other topics during his press conference:

  • He doesn’t believe his decision will have any effect on Paul George‘s future with the team. “I don’t think it should impact it at all,” Bird said. “Paul is going to do what Paul wants to do.” George has a player option for 2018/19, which means he has one more season before he can become a free agent. A Los Angeles native, George is widely believed to be headed to the Lakers as soon as the opportunity arises. Pritchard, who also spoke at today’s event, said he talked to George about his future for nearly an hour last week (Twitter link). The new president said “in every scenario he talked about being here.” (Twitter link).
  • The team’s financial picture didn’t influence Bird’s decision. Indiana heads into the summer with approximately $22MM in cap room and could have about $9MM more if C.J. Miles ($4.77MM) opts out and the team declines its option on Lavoy Allen ($4.3MM). “We’re going to have a better budget, we’re going to be able to do more things,” Bird said (Twitter link). He also praised owner Herb Simon for being committed to building a winner, adding “After looking at next year’s budget, I almost want to stay.” (Twitter link)
  • Bird also had kind words for his successor and jokingly wished Pritchard “good luck” as he took his place at the podium. (Twitter link). “The one thing I always say about Kevin is that you’re going to have a lot of deals on the table,” Bird said, “and you just have to decide which is best.” (Twitter link). Pritchard said his immediate goals are to add toughness and more energy to the team. “I want to get more physical, I want to get tougher,” he said. “I want guys who are completely high energy.” (Twitter link). Pritchard also expressed loyalty to Nate McMillan, who just completed his first season as head coach (Twitter link).

Larry Bird Stepping Down As Pacers President

MAY 1, 9:37am: The move is official, the Pacers announced on their website. Bird will hold a press conference later today to address his decision.

“I felt it was time to step away in a full-time capacity,” Bird said. “This has nothing to do with my health or our team. I’m 60 years old and I want to do other things away from basketball. I will do some scouting for the Pacers, NBA, college, international, do some appearances and stay in a capacity to advise senior basketball management. I love the Pacers, I grew up with the Pacers and admired them from a very young age. I want to thank the fans for their support throughout my career. I also want to thank (owner) Herb Simon for the many years of loyalty and for allowing me to stay with the team in a different role.”

APRIL 28, 11:32am: Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird is stepping down from his current role with the team, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical (Twitter link). According to Wojnarowski, Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard will assume control of the basketball operations department.Larry Bird vertical

While Bird will no longer be the Pacers’ president, he’s expected to continue to work with Pritchard and the front office as a consultant to the franchise, per Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

[RELATED: 2017 Offseason Salary Cap Digest: Indiana Pacers]

The news comes as a bit of a surprise, as there had been little indication that Bird was considering leaving the Pacers. However, on the heels of a disappointing 2016/17 campaign and a quick playoff exit, changes of some sort were expected in Indiana. The front office shakeup could significantly change the outlook for the Pacers going forward as the team begins a crucial offseason.

For one, Pritchard was believed to be drawing some interest from the Magic as a potential replacement in Orlando’s front office for Rob Hennigan. Given his increasing role in Indiana, Pritchard now appears unlikely to go anywhere anytime soon. As for Bird, Wojnarowski tweets that the Magic’s search firm has been asking around about him as a possible candidate for team president, but the Hall-of-Famer plans to stick to consulting for the time being.

Bird’s departure may also have an impact on Paul George‘s future in Indiana. Reports around the trade deadline – and before that – suggested that the team president was strongly in favor of retaining George and doing everything he could to lock up the star forward to a long-term deal with the Pacers. It’s not yet clear if Bird’s resignation makes an offseason trade of George more likely, but that will be a very interesting situation to monitor moving forward.

Bird had been the Pacers’ president of basketball operations since 2003, with the exception of the 2012/13 season, which he took off for health-related reasons. The team made it to the postseason nine times during that stretch, including three Eastern Conference Finals appearances. Bird also won the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2012.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reactions to Larry Bird’s Resignation

Larry Bird’s surprise announcement that he is resigning as president of the Pacers has raised a lot of questions about the future for both him and the organization. Here is a sampling of the reaction from NBA columnists:

  • The move feels like a surrender, assesses Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star, who adds that someone else will be left to work out the complicated situation with Paul George. Bird has been trying to rebuild the Pacers into a serious contender in the East since 2014 and has a non-playoff season and two first-round ousters to show for it. According to Doyel, Bird has been convinced for more than a year that George will opt out after next season and leave in free agency. The Pacers listened to offers for George before this year’s deadline, and the pressure to deal him will increase next season before he leaves with no return.
  • Bird’s decision is the first in a “seismic” offseason for the team, writes Nate Taylor of The Indianapolis Star. Bird won’t address the situation with reporters until Monday, but the move has already been made, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Taking over as president will be Kevin Pritchard, whom Bird recommended to owner Herb Simon. The organization’s main priority this offseason will be deciding how badly it wants to keep George. If he is voted to an All-NBA team, the Pacers can offer him an extra year and $75MM more than anyone else in free agency. But Taylor states that some people in the organization don’t believe George is worth that much.
  • The move wasn’t health related, Taylor notes (Twitter link). He adds that players weren’t warned about Bird’s possible departure in their exit interviews (Twitter link).
  • Bird’s exit signals the start of the rebuilding process, claims Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. That process starts with the return for George, and Ding says the Lakers and Celtics should both get their bids ready. The Pacers also must decide what to do about free agent point guard Jeff Teague, who would limit Indiana’s other options if he is re-signed with a hefty raise.

Pacers Notes: Teague, Bird, George

Coach Nate McMillan said Jeff Teague, who will be a free agent this offseason, wants to be back with the Pacers next season, as the team’s Twitter feed relays. The coach added that he believes he can get the best out of the point guard. “He needs to be better. I think I can make him better,” McMillan said.

Teague previously said he loves playing for the team. The point guard made $8.8MM last season in the final year of his contract. Teague will likely see a raise on that figure and the Pacers will have upwards of $32MM in cap space, as our Offseason Salary Cap Digest indicates:

  • Larry Bird has an incredible pulse on Pacers and that gives him the ability to make the best moves for the team, as Indiana’s Twitter feed passes along. “Larry [Bird] is at every practice, every game… He knows what this team needs. That was the reason he went out and got Lance [Stephenson],” McMillan said.
  • The Pacers cannot afford to add long-term money in free agency if they feel Paul George will leave next summer, Bobby Marks of The Vertical opines (video link). Indiana doesn’t currently have many long-term commitments and if George leaves, the team can build around Myles Turner and its cap space. However, if the organization makes a few bad signings, the eventual rebuild becomes more difficult.
  • McMillan expects George to return to Indiana next season, as the Indianapolis Star relays (video link). The coach added that he and George both want the same thing and that’s to win.

Latest On Paul George And The Lakers

Paul George has been talking about playing for the Lakers for years, an anonymous former teammate tells Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News. The small forward never made his desire to play for Los Angeles a secret within the team’s locker room, according to George’s former Pacers teammate.

Lakers team president Magic Johnson will likely pursue George and look to build a title contender around him, sources tell Lawrence. Johnson alluded to such plans during a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Lawrence acknowledges that George is a tremendous talent but hears that his leadership ability is being questioned around the league. Rival teams noticed how George handled himself in the media following the team’s Game 1 loss where C.J. Miles took the last shot instead of passing it to George. “C.J. took it upon himself,” George said following the game. “I’m confident in all my guys taking shots, that’s not the issue. But in that situation like that, I’ve gotta get that.”

A star should want the ball at the end of the game, but taking issue with teammates through the media is not the way top players should lead. “He’s not a winner by saying that [stuff] in public,” one GM told Lawrence. “That’s no way to support a teammate, but that’s how Paul rolls.”

Those comments after Game 1, along with George’s statements about Lance Stephenson‘s body language, have irritated members of the Pacers organization, particularly coach Nate McMillan and team president Larry Bird.

Several NBA executives are under the belief that George’s unhappiness and public blaming of teammates is a result of the Pacers not surrounding him with the right pieces.  Lawrence believes the Lakers need to surround George with “strong-willed” veterans should they trade for him this year or sign him next summer. One GM told Lawrence that the Celtics would be a much better fit than the Lakers because of Boston’s personnel.

Lawrence speculates that the team could part with D’Angelo Russell and/or Julius Randle in a hypothetical trade for George. The scribe adds that Brandon Ingram may not be on the table due to his high ceiling.

George said publicly that he hasn’t yet made a decision on his future with Indiana. “I ain’t even at that point, yet,” George said. He can become a free agent next summer by turning down a player option, which is worth approximately $20.7MM.