Pacers CEO Walsh willing to return
Updated: Feb. 23, 2007, 7:50 PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh said he is willing to return for another year if asked but does not expect to discuss a new contract until after the season.
Walsh, 65, said Friday that Pacers' co-owner Herb Simon has spoken with him about returning even though it was understood that when he signed his current contract, now in its fourth and final year, that it would be his last so team president Larry Bird could step in as CEO.
"If at the end of the year, the owner and Larry say, 'We want you to stay here,' I would stay here," Walsh said. "If it's good for the franchise for me to stay here, I'll stay here."
However, Walsh also said he would have no regrets if this season capped his 21-year run as CEO, despite having been forced to deal with a brawl between Pacers players and Detroit Pistons fans two seasons ago and the off-the-court woes of Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley and Marquis Daniels this season.
"If the time for me to leave is at the end of this year, I would look back on this and feel I did every single thing I could to make it a better franchise than it was when I took it over," he said. "If I'm going to stay here, I'm going to continue to do what I've always done."
Walsh is focused on rebuilding the once-sterling image of the franchise after several blows over the past three years.
After the brawl with Pistons fans in November 2004, Ron Artest was suspended for 73 regular-season games and the playoffs, Jackson missed 30 games and Jermaine O'Neal missed 15. The Pacers had been considered strong title contenders that season but lost in the second round of the playoffs. Numerous court cases followed.
Indiana went 41-41 last season and sent an unhappy Artest to Sacramento. The Pacers spent the offseason trying desperately to regain their frustrated fan base.
Tinsley, Daniels, Jackson and Jimmie Hunter were together during a fight in the parking lot of an Indianapolis strip club during training camp in October. Police said Jackson, who now plays for Golden State, fired a gun into the air, and he later was charged with a felony count of criminal recklessness and misdemeanor counts of battery and disorderly conduct.
The problems didn't end there. A Marion County grand jury on Wednesday indicted Tinsley on four charges, including a felony intimidation count, and Daniels on two misdemeanor charges in connection with a fight this month at a different Indianapolis nightclub.
Walsh, who has a law degree, has never spent so much time worrying about court cases.
"I got into this to be involved with the game of basketball," he said. "I've always made the choice to stay involved with basketball because I loved it. These last two years, three years, I've been involved in these legal issues, which is something I didn't want to do, more than I ever have with the game of basketball. That's not what I got in it for, but that's a part of the job, so it had to be done."
If nothing else, Walsh has been active this season. The Pacers traded Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Josh Powell to the Warriors for Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu and Keith McLeod last month. The Pacers are 9-5 with the new players, and the team is 29-24 and climbing in the Eastern Conference standings.
"I think the players we brought in fit with what we needed here, and they have great attitudes as far as the way they want to play the game," Walsh said.
The new success has given Walsh hope. He appeared excited for the first time in months as he talked about the direction of the team.
"I do like what I see," he said. "I do think we have to get better to consider ourselves a contender. We're in the hunt now, but we have a lot of difficult games that are on the road coming up."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press