Larry Bird will coach the Indiana Pacers next season. Then, who knows?
"It's the end of his contract," Pacers President Donnie Walsh said today. "He hasn't come in and definitely told me that. But I've always known it was a three-year deal and at the end of it he was going to make up his mind whether he wanted to coach or not."
Walsh spoke a day after it was disclosed Bird has had periodic bouts with an irregular heartbeat. He had them late in his career with the Boston Celtics, and the Pacers were aware of that when they hired him in 1997.
Bird was not available to comment, and it was not clear if the possibility of his leaving coaching was tied to his heart condition.
The 42-year-old Hall of Famer has atrial fibrillation, which is not life threatening. He is treating the condition by watching his diet and taking medication.
Bird first experienced irregular heartbeats during offseason workouts late in his career with the Celtics.
"In effect, it was a matter of finding the level of the medicine in order to have his heart beat regularly," Walsh said. "Once they found that, it seemed to me it was okay and he didn't have any more problems."
The Boston Globe reported today that Bird indicated to Walsh the upcoming season would be his last as coach. Walsh told the Associated Press he never talked to Bird specifically about that, although he has been aware of that possibility all along.
"I've also spoken to him about continuing on as general manager, president, whatever you want to call it," Walsh said. "So we'll continue to talk about that. But we really haven't sat down and had a definite discussion about this."
Bird, who had never coached at any level, was the NBA coach of the year in his first season in 1998. That year the Pacers had a franchise-record 58-24 mark and reached the Eastern Conference finals. Last season, shortened by the lockout, the Pacers were 33-17, won their division and again reached the conference finals.
Bird's heart ailment was disclosed in an excerpt in this week's Sports Illustrated from his upcoming book, "Bird Watching: On Playing and Coaching the Game I Love."