Pacers' Bird still mum on his plans for future

Legend likely to have option of moving up to GM

NBA notebook

June 20, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES - For the second game in a row, Larry Bird took the floor for what might be his final game as the Indiana Pacers' coach. And for the umpteenth time in a row, he revealed little about his plans for the future.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said during last night's pregame coaches news conference. "It's up in the air. I'm not worried about it. This season has been draining, but it's been great. The guys have really stepped up in the playoffs."

The only thing that seems certain is that Bird will not return next year as coach. He probably will have the option of stepping up into a general manager role with the Pacers, or stepping out for a year to recharge his batteries. There even has been speculation that he eventually will return to Boston to help return the storied Celtics to prominence.

Before Game 6, however, he tried to keep the focus on his players, who battled back from a two-game deficit with a stunning 33-point victory in Friday night's game at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"Obviously, it would be great [to win] after going three years with these guys, knowing some of these guys are coming to the end of their careers," Bird said. "They have given themselves an opportunity to play for a championship. I'd be more happy for the players than anything else. ... as far as myself, I don't know."

What is certain is that Bird proved to be a very capable coach and will be in demand if he decides to resume his career as a coach or as a front-office executive - or both.

"I've come a long way," he said. "I feel more comfortable with it," he said. "You try to do things so quickly, but I've been fortunate to be with a team that played hard for me. If you have a lot of talent, you've got a chance to play for the world championship. That's what these guys have done."

Kobe's ankle

Lakers star Kobe Bryant scored just eight points in Friday night's game and entered last night's game still feeling the effects of the ankle sprain he suffered in Game 2.

"He's stiff," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "He still has to do therapy before he does anything. Today, he had to have therapy for the shootaround."

Of course, the had one of the best games of his career in Game 4 in Indianapolis, his first game back after the injury.

Free agent outlook

The Pacers could lose the nucleus of this team to free agency this summer. Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose, Austin Croshere and Mark Jackson all are eligible to enter the market, which - if some of them leave - could push the Pacers into a rebuilding mode.

But Bird seemed confident that the Pacers will make a strong effort to keep the team together after this highly successful season.

"I talked to Reggie and Mark before the year and I know they were upset," Bird said. "Reggie promised me he would play hard for me, and he has. And I know that the success that they had during the year is probably going to dictate whether or not they re-sign with Indiana.

"So, they've had a good year. They've played hard. They've done everything they're capable of doing up to this point, and they'll probably be rewarded for it."

Apparently, a lot depends on Miller. If he leaves, some of the others could be more likely to sign elsewhere rather than suffer through a competitive downturn.

Back to the basics

After the Pacers handed them a 33-point thrashing in Game 5, the Lakers went back to basics.

The Lakers held an instructive practice Sunday at their training gym in El Segundo. Instead of taking it easy with Game 6 the next day, Los Angeles tried to return to its defensive roots to stop the Pacers' offense, which averaged 119 points over the previous two games of the series.

Jackson didn't agree with the theory that the Lakers didn't put up much fight in Game 5 because they could return home and finish off the series at Staples Center.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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