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Just The Sports: Taking A Long Look at Larry Bird the GM

Just The Sports

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Taking A Long Look at Larry Bird the GM

The Knicks get all of the attention as being a poorly run NBA franchise, but the Indiana Pacers are no more better run and if they were not only the 25th largest media market in the United States, I like to think that the front office would not get the free pass it does. Of course I cannot be sure of that since the national media has chosen to focus on the Pacers' players' behavior instead of the executives who assembled all of these players and put them on one team together. Well, that stops now because I want to examine some of the moves Larry Bird has made, a lot of which have been questionable at best.

To be fair, the seventeen seasons the Pacers had under Donnie Walsh as GM were really no better even if they went to the playoffs thirteen of those times, but I do not want to turn this into a dissertation so I have elected to let Walsh off without too much criticism.

Larry Bird took over the GM post of the Pacers in 2003 and in his fourth transaction he let the NBA world know that he was not afraid to put his incompetence on display when he traded Brad Miller to the Kings for Scot Pollard. Brad Miller, who is only 29, is one of the preeminent efficient offensive players in the game right now and was so at the time of the trade, able to shoot at a high percentage while also having excellent passing ability for any player let alone for a center. He also is able to maintain his efficient play while playing significant minutes. Scot Pollard, on the other hand, while being better defensively was nowhere near as valuable as Miller because he simply does not play enough minutes since his skills cannot be used against every opponent. Truly, a horrible trade.

Another mistake, in my opinion, was the hiring of Rick Carlisle as his head coach. Not to overly impugn Carlisle's coaching ability, but he is at best a good regular-season head coach whose teams cannot win in the playoffs. As far as I am concerned, the combination of Larry Bird as GM and Rick Carlisle as head coach will never result in an NBA title for the Pacers.

His trading of Al Harrington for Stephen Jackson in the 2004 off-season is nearly defensible on a basketball level, but not really. Harrington is not as good a player as many people may think, but Jackson is no better and the point of any trade should be to improve the team. The only thing this trade improved was the crazy quotient on the Pacers roster; Jackson's craziness has certainly been on display, too, most notably during the Palace melee and also in the incident that happened outside a strip club while Jackson was on probation.

Bird's 2005 off-season was also one that will never find its way onto the how-to manual on being an intelligent GM. A couple months before the season began, he traded away James Jones to the Phoenix Suns for a second-round draft pick. Draft picks are fun to have, but even more fun to have are players who you already know will be good in the NBA and Bird did a poor job of assessing what kind of player he had in James Jones. Jones only played in six games his rookie year, but his sophomore stint saw him play in 75 contests and put up an offensive rating of 108 while playing league-average defense, very high for what was essentially his first year playing and provided a clue as to how he would probably improve over his career. Bird was clueless and traded him anyway and Jones went on to have an offensive rating of 112 in his first year with the Suns.

Bird's trading of Ron Artest was probably his most high-profile trade because of the notoriety surrounding the Tru Warier. Getting rid of Artest was necessary and he got a good player back in Peja Stojakovic, but maybe just maybe when you are trading away one of the best defenders in the game, you get in return a player who will wear your uniform for more than 46 games. Just a thought.

In this latest off-season, Bird has been busy making trades and it remains to be seen how they will turn out, but if his track record is any indication, they will not take the Pacers to the next level of anything.

I'm sure there will come a day when the whole NBA realizes there is no benefit to having former players be general managers and the sooner that day comes the better.


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