The door remains open for Larry Bird to return to the Pacers front office. Pacers President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh returned to the team and took over when Bird stepped down after the NBA draft last June. But Walsh said again today that he is willing to step aside when and if Bird wants to come back.
"I don't know what Larry wants to do," said Walsh at a season ending news conference. "It remains what I've said since I got here and probably every other day since. I'd love to see him come back. He knows he can come back. I'm sure he's going to direct himself to it. But I haven't talked to him since when got in the playoffs deep. So I really don't know."
Bird coached the Pacers for three seasons from 1998-2000, leading the team to its only appearance in the NBA Finals. He returned in 2003 as President of Basketball Operations and ran the team day-to-day until his resignation last summer. Bird was named NBA Executive of the Year in 2011-12.
Walsh is 72 years old in his second stint with the Pacers. Walsh spent 24 years with the Pacers starting in 1984 as an assistant coach. He climbed up the front office ladder to General Manager and President/CEO. When Bird left last year, Pacers owner Herb Simon asked Walsh to come back.
"I'm prepared to step away from it," said Walsh. "I said that from day one. I told (Larry Bird) that. 'Anytime you want to come back, it's open.' I'll honor that. I have no doubt that Larry is going to call me and tell me what he wants to do. It just hasn't happened yet."
Whoever is running the team, the number one off-season priority will be re-signing veteran forward David West when free agency begins July 1. West averaged 17 points and seven rebounds a game for the Pacers last season.
"We want David back," said Walsh. "We think he's one of the anchors of our team. He's a terrific player. We want him back as much as you can want anyone back."
"He knows that we're in a great position moving forward," added Pacers General Manager Kevin Pritchard. "He's priority number one and July 1 we'll have a lot of conversations."
Walsh defended the Pacers bench, which averaged just 11 points a game in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
"We're not concerned about it as much as other people are concerned about it," said Walsh. "We're going to try to add elements to this team that we think we don't have. But that isn't an indictment of the bench. I think the bench will get better, each player on the team."
Pritchard believes the return of Danny Granger, the team's top scorer from 2011-12, from knee surgery will significantly improve the team's depth.
"That allows us to have one more player that has a lot of experience out there," said Pritchard. "When you put him in the position he needs to be, we feel good about our bench, too. There are some things that can really flow from that makes our bench better scoring and better defense."
The Pacers are hopeful Granger will return full strength to the Pacers, as a starter or off the bench.
"We're very optimistic," said Walsh. "It comes from the medical opinions we've had, that Danny will be back for training camp and should be at 100% as far as his medical history. I've been encouraged what I've seen so far."
The Pacers future looks bright with a core of young starters and fan support growing after this year's playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
"The fans have seen that we have a good, young team that plays as hard as it can play, that is committed to winning, that gets along and are all good guys," said Walsh. "I think they see a young coach, who since the day he took over this team, has turned the franchise in another direction. I think that's exciting."