In 2004, the Indiana Pacers lost in the Eastern Conference finals and appeared poised for a run at the NBA championship with a young, talented nucleus. Then came the brawl. It's taken nearly a decade but the Pacers once again have people thinking about titles. Here's the inside story on how the Pacers were rebuilt as told by the project's chief architects: Larry Bird and Donnie Walsh.

Larry Bird's gut told him it was time.

The Indiana Pacers had lost seven of their past eight games but that wasn't the stretch Bird was looking at. He was looking ahead. He saw a stretch of 10 games and figured coach Jim O'Brien could win at least seven of them.

More important, Bird thought a new coach could do the same. It was a Sunday afternoon, Jan. 30, 2011. Bird called O'Brien in. He told the coach how much he appreciated all his hard work through 3½seasons of hard times. He told O'Brien he was firing him.

The Pacers were mired in negativity. O'Brien had been virulently, publicly critical of center Roy Hibbert. He was playing Paul George too little in Bird's opinion. He was playing Lance Stephenson scarcely at all.

Still, Bird felt deeply grateful. He felt O'Brien had established a system, a work ethos, a standard of expectation and execution with a young, emerging team. He asked O'Brien for his help, one more time. He asked who on the coach's staff might be a candidate to replace him.

Bird had already called several prospects but took O'Brien's recommendation to heart. Bird summoned assistant Frank Vogel to his office.

"I asked him if he had any interest in the job," Bird recalled. "He said, 'I don't know. I've got to think about that.'

"I said, 'No. No. No. I'm asking you if you have an interest in the job. This is the NBA. I'll get somebody else. I don't care.'

"I knew Frank was playing a little game. He wanted it but he didn't want to hurt (O'Brien's) feelings. He left. I called him and said, 'You've got the job.'

"I told him to bring all the coaches to dinner that night. So we got everybody together and I got up and all I said was: 'Frank is in charge.'

"(I said,) 'He's going to run the team but I want to tell all you guys right now, if I hear you say anything negative, other than coaching negativity about a bad pass or a bad screen, I'm going to fire you on the spot. I don't want any of that here. We're going to look at the future. We're going to be positive about the future.' "