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Interim coach Frank Vogel then took a young team with core players Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Darren Collison and guided it to the playoffs. The Pacers challenged the Chicago Bulls before losing the first-round series 4-1. This year, Indiana beat Orlando easily in the first round before falling to eventual champion Miami in six games.

Bird, of course, is as well known in Indiana as John Wooden or Bob Knight. The former Indiana State star from tiny French Lick won three MVP awards and three NBA titles during his Hall of Fame career with Boston.

As the Pacers‘ president, he took a franchise humbled by the brawl between Pacers players and Pistons fans in 2004, made a series of difficult trades to get rid of troublemakers, rebuilt through the draft and returned the Pacers to the Eastern Conference semifinals this season. It was Indiana’s deepest postseason run in seven years.

The franchise with a tarnished image is now one of the league’s most promising teams despite its small-market status. Bird built the team the old-fashioned way _ by drafting players (Paul George and Hansbrough) and developing them through the team structure, making shrewd decisions to trade for others (George Hill and Collison) and finding affordable free agents (David West).

The Pacers, well under the salary cap, are expected to be a significant player in free agency.


Freelance writers Kareem Copeland and Cliff Brunt in Indianapolis contributed to this report.