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Bird returning to Pacers front office

INDIANAPOLIS – A year away from basketball has rejuvenated Larry Bird.

Now he wants to win a championship.

Bird, the former NBA star who left his job last season after rebuilding the Indiana Pacers and winning the league’s executive of the year award, will be reintroduced to the media Thursday morning as the president of basketball operations. That’s the same job Bird held from 2003-12.

“The year off gave me a chance to reflect, to rest, to take care of some health issues and it re-charged me,” Bird said in a statement issued by the team.

The move is hardly a surprise.

He reportedly met earlier this month with Sacramento about becoming that team’s general manager and had become a regular in recent weeks as the Pacers held public draft workouts, making his imminent return one of the worst kept secrets in Indy. Following Tuesday’s draft workout, general manager Kevin Pritchard even alluded to the fact that Bird appeared on the verge of making a comeback.

Donnie Walsh, who preceded Bird as the Pacers’ top decision-maker then succeeded him last summer as president of basketball operations, will now settle in his new role – as a team consultant.

Walsh had said all along that if, or when, Bird wanted to return, he would gladly step aside. He has.

“He’s ready and I couldn’t be happier,” Walsh said. “I had a great year last year with this team. It is a great group of guys who have the potential for some great things and to remain a part of this, with two people who I love to work with and respect greatly, is very special.”

Bird has a long track record of success in the NBA.

As a player with Boston, he won three championships, three MVP awards, was twice the MVP of the NBA Finals and retired in 1992 as one of the greatest players in league history.

In 1997, he returned to the bench this time as coach of the Pacers – his home state team. He was the 1998 NBA coach of the year and two years later led the Pacers into the franchise’s only appearance in the NBA Finals. Indiana lost that year to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, and Bird retired after the season in part because of health problems.

Three years later, he came back to the Pacers in a front office job.

He and Walsh worked together as a team for five years before Walsh left to join the New York Knicks and Bird took over most of the day-to-day decisions with the Pacers.

Under Bird’s guidance, the Pacers returned to the playoffs in 2011. Bird’s shrewd moves included a draft-day trade for Roy Hibbert and another draft-day trade for George Hill, the signing of free-agent power forward David West and the selections of Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the 2010 draft. Those five, and Danny Granger, produced the franchise’s first playoffs series win in seven years last season, and it was those five, without Granger, that pushed Miami to the limit in Indiana’s first conference finals appearance in nine years.

“We are all very happy to have Larry back,” team owner Herb Simon said. “Larry had a huge impact on this team and where it is now, so it’s fitting that he comes back at this time. Donnie has been a friend and a valuable contributor to the franchise and will continue to be both. I wanted him to agree to stay in some capacity as I believe with Larry and Kevin, it gives us three of the best basketball minds in the business.”

The team will hold a news conference Thursday morning to introduce Bird, who will officially take over July 1.

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