INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers have replaced their coach, but they'll keep team president Larry Bird at least through the season.
Owner Herb Simon told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he believes Bird has performed well under difficult circumstances, and he could be back next year. On Sunday, the Pacers fired coach Jim O'Brien and replaced him with assistant coach Frank Vogel.
"I still have an incredible amount of confidence in Larry and his basketball acumen, his winning tradition," Simon said. "The way he deals with the basketball side is the way I believe it should be done. I'm very satisfied."
Some fans have grown restless because the Pacers have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons. Many have been critical of Bird, an Indiana native and former Boston Celtics star.
Bird took full control of basketball decisions after the 2007-08 season, when former CEO Donnie Walsh left to become the New York Knicks' president. The Pacers went 36-46 in 2008-09 and 32-50 in 2009-10. The Pacers have an 18-27 record this season, 17 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics.
Bird was hired as team president in 2003 and shared in basketball decisions with Walsh. He arrived before the infamous brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans in 2004. Later, several players had problems with the law, and the team decided to make talent-depleting trades.
"Even though he's had some tough years, there's a lot of reasons that we can explore, why we've had such a tough time," Simon said. "He was left a very difficult situation — no cap room, big contracts, a lot of problems he had no control over."
This is the final year of Bird's contract. Simon says he and Bird will meet after the season to discuss the future. He said Bird's desire to remain in the role will carry significant weight.
"He's going to evaluate where he is in life, and we will listen and wait for him to tell us what he thinks we should be doing," Simon said. "Ultimately, I'd like to get his recommendation of what he wants to do. If it's something I'm comfortable with, I'll do it."
The Pacers are building around veteran forward Danny Granger and young talents such as center Roy Hibbert, forward Tyler Hansbrough and guard Darren Collison. Bird traded for Collison in the offseason to give the team the point guard it needed, and the Pacers will have salary cap space to get other pieces before next season.
Simon said Bird deserves credit for giving the Pacers a chance to be competitive in the coming years.
"If you look at our roster, you look at our players, you look at the cap room we have, the whole picture, he's done exactly what he said he would do, and he's put us now in a pretty good situation for the future. It's a very, very good job he's done."
Simon said he expects Bird to be a Pacer in some capacity next season.
"Larry is someone the franchise will always want to be associated with in some way," he said. "Larry's a very independent person, and we'll await his decision. I think he wants to be involved with the franchise."
Bird said he doesn't know which way Simon is leaning.
"When I talked to Mr. Simon, he had some concerns about some things," Bird said. "I told him I wanted to wait until after the year is up and sit down and talk about it and see where he wants to go. But I know if I'm not here, whoever's here, they're sitting in position to turn this thing around."