[size=18:de105068ca]Walsh made right moves[/size]
Man who built, rebuilt Pacers in draft turns job over to Bird
By Mark Montieth
June 24, 2004
Donnie Walsh still works the phones, still studies the talent, still sits in on all the meetings.
But when the Indiana Pacers make their move in tonight's NBA draft, someone other than Walsh will have the last word for the first time since 1985.
Larry Bird, named team president last July, will define his legacy as a front office executive by how he conducts the draft and trades. Forget the fact he has bigger feet than Walsh. He has big shoes to fill.
The Pacers have made the NBA playoffs in 14 of the past 15 seasons largely because of their draft acumen under Walsh's supervision. While hindsight reveals flaws in every team's draft history, the Pacers have only a few blemishes.
Walsh, now the Pacers CEO, says he doesn't reflect upon or second-guess his draft picks. He is mindful of the uncertainty of every draft and the illogic of anyone guessing right every year on which players will develop.
"I think we won more games since I've been here than before I got here, so that's about all I can say," Walsh said.
"I do the best I can when I'm doing it. I don't dwell on how everybody receives it."
Walsh's formula for success has been fairly simple. Gather a strong team of scouts, study all possible details and options, and show some courage. Oh, yes, when necessary, lie like crazy.
That's how he got Chuck Person with the No. 4 pick shortly after taking over as general manager in 1986. The choice surprised other teams because Walsh had spread the word he would take a big man. That was a ploy to hold off New York, which had the fifth pick and appeared willing to trade up for Person.
Person was named Rookie of the Year the next season and led the Pacers into the playoffs for the first time in six years. The Knicks were left to take Kenny Walker, who averaged 7.0 points over seven seasons.
Walsh learned a lesson about the fallacy of draft honesty as an assistant coach in Denver. In 1980, the Nuggets wanted to draft Kevin McHale with the fifth pick. Word got out, so Boston traded for the third pick to take McHale.
Denver wound up with James Ray, who averaged 3.2 points over three seasons. McHale became a Hall of Famer.
Walsh's "missed" picks generally have had extenuating circumstances. He took Malik Sealy with the 14th pick in 1992 when Doug Christie and Latrell Sprewell were available. The Pacers weren't in the market for shooting guards, however, because they had a pretty good one: Reggie Miller.
They drafted Scott Haskin the next year with the 14th pick when Sam Cassell and Nick Van Exel were available. Haskin, a 6-11 center, will forever remain a mystery because his career was cut short by injury after 27 games as a rookie. He didn't show much in those 27 games, scoring 55 points in 186 minutes, but Walsh believes he would have become a contributor.
"He was a little like Jeff Foster is now, but bigger," Walsh said. "He was a great rebounder and shot blocker."
The Pacers also took Erick Dampier with the 10th pick in 1996 when Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic and Jermaine O'Neal were available. The Pacers had major concerns over Rik Smits' feet -- he had surgery later that summer -- and targeted a legitimate center.
Dampier has become one of the league's better centers, and the Pacers will have interest in him again if he becomes a free agent. Bryant is an elite player, but at the time the mass migration of high school players to the NBA had not kicked into gear. His success convinced Walsh to scout them seriously. Stojakovic worked out for the Pacers and made a great impression, but they weren't sure if he could get out of his European contract. As it turned out he waited two years before signing with Sacramento.
Those "mistakes," however, are tucked away amid the successes. He bravely took Miller with the 11th pick in 1987 despite an outcry from local fans -- and a death threat -- on behalf of Indiana University star Steve Alford, and was roundly booed for it. He took Dale Davis with the 13th pick in 1991 when Davis was projected to go lower. And, in the moves that make him most proud today, he got Antonio Davis and Kenny Williams with late second-round picks (45 and 46) in 1990.
Antonio Davis was a solid contributor for six seasons before requesting a trade and was an All-Star one season for Toronto. Williams is one of the NBA's all-time "lost talents," squandering rare skill and athleticism with off-court immaturity. He is playing overseas.
"He was young and he couldn't get his life together," Walsh said. "If he had a little more maturity he would have been fine, but the league wasn't set up to handle young kids at that time."
Walsh doesn't hide from a player's off-court issues, however. They are also part of the decision-making process on draft day, as Bird will find out.
"I always felt if the guy didn't work out, it was on us," Walsh said. "These players don't draft themselves."
Call Star reporter Mark Montieth at (317)-444-6406.
More hits than misses
Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh (above) used the draft to turn the organization into a contender. Below is a look at the Pacers' top selections in each draft since Walsh assumed control of basketball operations in 1986.
Year Pos. Player/comment Could have had Grade
1986 4 Chuck Person: Became Rookie of the Year Ron Harper (8), Mark Price (25) A-
1987 11 Reggie Miller: Likely Hall of Famer Mark Jackson (18), Reggie Lewis (22) A+
1988 2 Rik Smits: Pacers' 2nd all-time scorer Mitch Richmond (5), Rod Strickland (19) A
1989 7 George McCloud: Averaged 5.5 pts in 4 seasons Tim Hardaway (14), Shawn Kemp (17) C
1990 45 Antonio Davis: A second-round steal Cedric Ceballos (48) A
1991 13 Dale Davis: Pacers' all-time leading rebounder Chris Gatling (16), Rick Fox (24) A
1992 14 Malik Sealy: Averaged 6.1 pts in two seasons Doug Christie (17), Latrell Sprewell (24) C-
1993 14 Scott Haskin: Injuries ended career after 27 games Sam Cassell (24), Nick Van Exel (37) D
1994 (Draft pick Eric Piatkowski was part of trade for Mark Jackson.)
1995 23 Travis Best: Key player on 2000 Finals team Greg Ostertag (28), Eric Snow (43) B
1996 10 Erick Dampier: Traded for Chris Mullin after 1 year Kobe Bryant (13), Peja Stojakovic (14) C
1997 12 Austin Croshere: Usually produces when he plays Derek Anderson (13), Bobby Jackson (23) B
1998 25 Al Harrington: Averaged 12.9 pts over past 3 years Nazr Mohammed (29), Rashard Lewis (32) B
1999 5 Jonathan Bender*: Jury is still out Richard Hamilton (7), Andre Miller (8) I
1999 21 Jeff Foster*: Gave up future first-round pick to get Andrei Kirilenko (24), Gordan Giricek (40) B
2000 27 Primoz Brezec: Potential, scarce playing time Michael Redd (43), Brian Cardinal (44) C
2001 27 Jamaal Tinsley*: Still a question mark Tony Parker (28), Gilbert Arenas (31) C+
2002 14 Fred Jones: Showed definite promise last season Tayshaun Prince (23), Carlos Boozer (35) B
2003 49 James Jones: It's early, but he can shoot Kyle Korver (51), Brandon Hunter (56) A
* Acquired in draft-day trade