Larry Bird happy former KU guard Kevin Pritchard replacing him as Pacers' president
Before officially stepping down as the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, NBA legend Larry Bird on Monday left his replacement, former Kansas guard Kevin Pritchard, with a vote of confidence.
"I'm very happy Kevin is stepping in and glad another Hoosier is in line to take over this job,” Bird said of Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Ind., before going on to help KU win the 1988 national championship. “He has a lot of experience from the past five years as a GM and he's ready to step into a leading role. With us, he has had his own ideas on the draft, players, and now he gets an opportunity to push his basketball abilities to the forefront. His role will be no different than mine was. He will make all final decisions on all basketball-related matters. There can only be one voice, and it will be his."
Pritchard, 49, spent the past five seasons working under Bird, in various functions, most recently as vice president of basketball operations and general manager.
“What do you say to someone,” Pritchard asked during his introductory press conference, while thanking Bird, “who has absolutely given you the opportunity of a lifetime?”
According to Pritchard, he and Bird, who will remain a consultant to him, talk every day about the Pacers, and he has learned a lot about basketball from the former Boston Celtics great.
Still, Pritchard’s new job won’t be easy. He inherits a team that has a superstar in Paul George, who many think will leave in free agency in the summer of 2018 if the Pacers can’t convince him to sign an extension before then. Rumors of moving George out of Indiana dominated the NBA’s trade deadline this past February, and the first question Pritchard fielded Monday dealt with the franchise player’s future.
“I’ve been on the job two minutes now,” Pritchard joked, in response, looking down at his watch.
The Pacers’ new president went on to explain he had exit interviews with George and other players after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by defending champion Cleveland. Pritchard said George wants to win. It will be Pritchard’s job to prove the Pacers can do that, or else he might have to trade the face of the franchise this summer to make sure they don’t lose George and get nothing in return in July of 2018.
“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said. “But the one thing I’ve learned from Larry is how important continuity is.”
Still, Indiana’s new president of basketball operations said he doesn’t mind being aggressive and making moves in the summer, particularly during the draft.
Since graduating from Kansas, Pritchard has spent most of his professional life involved in the NBA in one aspect or another. A second-round draft pick of Golden State in 1990, the point guard spent parts of four seasons in the league as a player, appearing in 94 games. After a stint in the ABA with the Kansas City Knights as a coach and G.M., Pritchard broke into the NBA ranks as a scout for San Antonio. That gig that landed him the title of director of player personnel in Portland, in 2004, and he eventually was promoted to general manager.
Fair or unfair, his time in Portland is associated for many with the Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick in 2007, instead of Kevin Durant.
Without addressing specifically the injury-shortened career of Oden, who only played 82 games for Portland, Pritchard alluded to it when asked if he learned anything about this job from his time in charge of the Blazers’ roster. He said he now better understands how valuable the opinions of team doctors can be.
“Sometimes you can get blinded by talent,” Pritchard said, “and you want it to work. But unless guys can play, you can’t play. So, I would say learn from your medical staff. And then I thought there were times that we got a little too active (with roster moves) and I felt another year with the same team or a similar team would’ve really benefited everybody else. It’s that age-old thing of balance. Do you make changes or do you buy into continuity? And I think it all depends on your timeline, too.”
Whatever the future holds for the Pacers as a franchise — be that a blockbuster deal that ships George out, or a re-tooled roster that helps George return to the conference finals or beyond as the team’s centerpiece — Pritchard will be the one who facilitates it.
From 1986 to 1990, Pritchard played four seasons at Kansas, averaging 14.5 points in each of his final two years, under Roy Williams. Of course, his first two seasons in Lawrence came under the tutelage of Larry Brown. After coaching Pritchard, Danny Manning and “The Miracles” to the 1988 title, Brown had a successful run in Indiana as the Pacers’ head coach.
“I feel like Larry Brown gave me a foundation of basketball,” Pritchard said. “The way it’s played the right way. You’ve heard Larry Brown say ‘the right way’ a million times. He’s tough, but I’m very grateful to have played for Coach Brown, as well.”