Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Bird coming to Sacramento unlikely but not unthinkable

Published: Thursday, Jun. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 - 4:02 pm

If Vivek Ranadive was going to take a flyer, wanted to heave a prayer from the deep corner, of course it would be Larry Bird.

Who wouldn't want to hire the architect of the Indiana Pacers team that came within a victory of reaching the NBA Finals? Who was named the league's Executive of the Year in 2012? Who remains part-man, part-myth? Who also is unemployed after a one-year, self-imposed sabbatical and, reportedly, is starting to feel the itch?

The Kings majority owner apparently wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to assemble the best staff possible to oversee and ensure the resurrection of the franchise.

While he was fixated from the beginning on hiring Golden State Warriors assistant Michael Malone as his head coach – relying on instinct, reputation and personal observation – his more measured and expansive search for a basketball president/general manager has taken him to the outskirts of Bird territory.

He's not there yet. Contrary to published reports, Ranadive and Bird have not met. But conversations are ongoing, and that Bird, 56, is even listening suggests he is at least mildly interested.

While folks close to Bird said they would be stunned if the Hall of Famer accepted a position with another small-market franchise almost 2,000 miles from his hometown of French Lick, Ind., these same people were shocked that he picked up the phone. If Bird wants to return to the NBA, prevailing sentiment suggests, he can waltz back into his old job with the Pacers, without having to hire a moving van, disrupt his family or abandon his favorite fishing hole.

All of that makes sense. The team Bird built – the young Pacers of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and George Hill – will be more experienced next season, and like the league's other small markets, increasing beneficiaries of the new collective bargaining agreement.

So why might Bird leave for an extended West Coast adventure? Because he craves challenges. Because the man known as Larry Legend knows a Cinderella story when he hears one. Because Ranadive can offer a lucrative package, perhaps an annual salary of $5 million and a percentage of the team. And because Bird – who appreciates a pay raise as much as the next guy – probably isn't happy about the hit he took when Pacers owner Herb Simon trimmed salaries.

Before saying this could never happen, remember this is the NBA. "Never" was excised from the playbook decades ago. Jerry West went to Memphis. Phil Jackson was fired and rehired by the late Jerry Buss. The Clippers escaped the NBA lottery. The Kings are staying in Sacramento …

Back to Bird: The three-time MVP, three-time NBA champion, perhaps the most complete forward in the history of the game, remains one of the most competitive people on the planet.

Those urges can become dormant, but they don't disappear. Throughout his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, Bird swore he didn't want to coach, yet there he was guiding the Pacers to the 2000 NBA Finals. Three years later, he reappeared as the Pacers' president of basketball operations, only to resign again after being named the 2012 Executive of the Year – just months before the team he built extended the Miami Heat to seven games.

Isn't he bored by now? Probably. Is he ready for a change? Possibly.

Luring Bird to Sacramento would be the latest in an ongoing series of stunning, remarkable developments involving Sacramento, the Kings and the new ownership group. I wouldn't count on it. I wouldn't conduct a search for leprechauns or start penciling No. 33 on the back of the sneakers. But the surprises keep coming. Given all that has transpired these past five months, never say never.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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