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Pacers president Donnie Walsh refreshed after a year of R&R
Donnie Walsh didn't have to return to an NBA front office position. Now 71, he spent last year relaxing at his Indianapolis home with his wife and dogs.
At the same time, Walsh wasn't going to turn down an opportunity if the right situation arose.
That opportunity came late last month when Indiana Pacers owner Herb Simon needed to replace team President Larry Bird.
Simon could have gone outside the organization, but he puts a premium on trust. That's why he turned to Walsh, who spent 24 years with the Pacers before leaving in 2008 to become president of the New York Knicks.
"People used to call me up and say, 'You must want to get back in.' I really didn't want to," Walsh said recently from his office at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "I enjoyed doing nothing. I did it very well. Me coming back here really happened very fast."
Walsh, who has made a flurry of moves in his first month on the job, offered opinions on a variety of subjects.
Question: Was there any hesitation in coming back?
Answer: "No, not at all. The minute Herb asked me, I told him I'll come back. We didn't discuss terms or anything like that. We'll always have a handshake agreement. I had to talk to Larry first. He told me he was going to go away for a year. I told him, 'I'll be here, and whenever you want to come back, you come back.' I want him to come back."
Q: How much did you miss the NBA last season?
A: "I had done this for almost 30 years straight with no break. It wears you down, so most of the year I was glad I was off because I hadn't been off before. I really felt like it cleared up my head. You can get worn down with this, so when I came back, I was feeling fresher. I remember coming in the door and thinking, 'What am I doing here?' But once I got in the groove, I got into it again."
Q: Are you the same workaholic as before?
A: "Oh yeah. I'm going to do it the same. I just may not be in as early and not as late as before. I get in around 10 a.m. and stay until about 6 p.m."
Q: Most front office people bring in their own personnel. But it was pretty obvious that general manager Kevin Pritchard would be elevated in the front office. How much did you know about him before this?
A: "I had dinner with Kevin when I first came back. I really didn't know him when I came in. Larry had already recommended him to Herb, (former general manager) David Morway was already gone, so when I walked in here, I knew he was going to be here. I've really enjoyed working with him. He's exactly the kind of guy I want to work with. I still make some calls, but he's really good at working the phones. I think sharing ideas -- he's been a general manager before -- is great. The way I see myself doing the job now, he's a perfect fit for me. I've got confidence in him. He's somebody I really enjoy talking about basketball with him."
Q: How is the franchise different from when you left in 2008?
A: "It's rebuilt. Not all the way, but it's getting there. They have a very good starting team. I think the feeling was when I got here we needed to strengthen our bench. If nothing else, getting positions we didn't have that were missing. I think we've done that. We had to make that trade (with Dallas) to get a big guy. Then we had to get a point guard to replace (Darren) Collison."
Q: Training camp is still about two months away. Are you happy with the way the roster looks today?
A: "We're going to spend the rest of the summer looking to see if there's anything else we can do. The reason is, you have to look at the other teams. I think New York is going to be better. Miami is going to be better. Miami ended up developing into a team. That's why they won the title last season. Brooklyn is going to be better. We have to go up a level. This team has taken a step each of the past two years. This team is together. They are really committed to trying to become a contending team.
Q: What other areas do you need to address on the roster?
A: "I don't want to get into it because I don't want to point fingers at any one position. I think we may be shy in a couple of areas. As you get closer to training camp, there are going to be players left out that are good. You want to be ready to get one of them."
Q: You wouldn't think this franchise made it to the second round of the playoffs last season with the way fans have questioned some of your decisions so far. What's your reaction to the criticism?
A: "I would tell them what I told them when I went through it the first time, and that is, 'Don't make judgments today based on what you think; wait until you see the team play.' I said that about Chuck Person and Reggie Miller. I notice a reaction right away when fans don't like something. Give it a chance, because I think we have the makings of a good team. That's the object. The object is not to get names you hear every day. It's about getting better. The one thing you don't want to do is mess up the strength of a team. The strength of this team is they all get along, they all play hard, they play together."