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Q&A with Donnie Walsh, a lot of interesting comments
Feb. 13, 2004
With the Pacers riding atop the Eastern Conference at 39-14 at the All-Star break, franchise President and CEO Donnie Walsh sat down for this exclusive question and answer session with Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com
Q. You've said before that you've been surprised by the team's rapid progress. What is your level of gratifcation for the team's success thus far?
A. I’m happy to see the team where they are. I think both the coaches and the team obviously came in here with the intention to go out and perform on a really high level. You can’t get this kind of record without doing that. And in the course of getting this record, you’ve got to play a lot of good teams on the road and at home and we have come through that in a great way. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to continue to improve to get to where you ultimately want to get but, from what I’ve seen so far this year, I think our team is basically very focused on being great.
Q. Do the number of coaching changes that have transpired since the beginning of the season illustrate the scenario you and Larry Bird wanted to avoid by hiring Rick Carlisle when you did?
A. Yes, they do. I thought by changing our coach and bringing Rick in, it would take a longer time for this team to come together and to do well. I mean, we were 13-2 in the month of November. We’ve been through some tough times; we had a tough month in December where we were on the road a lot. And yet their focus has remained the same. And that, you can’t always predict. But (the changes) pointed out what we were worried about: that if we went into the season and we weren’t sure if our team would come together again and had to fire a coach at that time, it’s not the most ideal time to do that.
Q. Has Jermaine O'Neal progressed to the point that he should be considered a legitimate MVP candidate?
A. Absolutely. It’s hard to say that because, as good as he is right now – which puts him on that level – you also see that this guy is going to continue to get better and better. I think it really speaks well for both the way he’s played this year and the kind of talent he is. This guy is a unique talent in this league, and I don’t think it has hit as many people as it probably should.
Q. How do you feel about the way Ron Artest has woven himself into the fabric of the team?
A. Ronnie is unique in his own way. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a player as unique as Ronnie, and nine-tenths of it is due to how hard he works. Obviously, he has a lot of talent. But it’s how hard he’s worked in the offseason, how much improvement he’s made since he’s been here, and how hard he’s worked to make that improvement. But I can say that for a lot of these guys on the team because they all fit a piece in the puzzle. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have Al Harrington, if we didn’t have the point guards we have, if we didn’t have Jeff Foster, and now Scot Pollard is coming around. A lot of things are falling in place for us.
Q. What have you learned about Rick Carlisle since hiring him as head coach?
A. The only things I’ve learned about Rick are head-coach things. I already knew he was a good coach. I didn’t worry about this personality issue everybody was talking about, because I knew him and (Larry) Bird knew him and there was no problem with that. What I’ve learned is mainly his bench behavior. And I think he’s been as good as anyone I’ve seen as a bench coach at sensing the other team’s run and cutting it short with timeouts, at having his team prepared for all the situations you can run into and, for the most part, calling the right shots. And he’s sticking to what he told the team before the season, that he wanted to be a defensive team because he believed that would carry you through the playoffs. Everything he said before the season he has carried out. So I think it says more about his philosophy about a coach than it does his talent as a coach, because I’ve been able to see him take his philosophy, put it in place and make it work. I already knew he was a good coach. I already knew he was a good guy. But to watch him do this as a head coach has made me more impressed with him.
Q. Are there any other developments that have caught your eye?
A. I’m gratified to see Austin playing the way I know Austin can play. Scot Pollard can be a very important part of this team, and lately he’s showing how. The thing I want to see happen is Jonathan Bender come back to our team because he adds a special talent and size to our team that could help us. But from one to 15, I think everybody has worked hard in the same direction.
Q. Are you thinking about an NBA title yet?
A. I never think that. I’m thinking about the next game. That’s the way the team’s thinking, that’s the way Rick has been thinking. Don’t worry about the record. Whatever the record is, it is. You play the game you’re playing, then you forget about that one and move on to the next one. That’s the way you should think, because you can’t get too far ahead of yourself.
Q. Given what he has been through and how he has emerged from it, how do you assess Jamaal Tinsley's performance?
A. I am really both happy for Jamaal and proud of Jamaal for what he’s done. I knew he worked very hard in the summer and that was evident in how he came into camp. But then he got hit with something he didn’t expect, and that was not playing. I felt he handled that really well in the sense that he kept working. I’m sure he was disappointed but he didn’t let it affect what he was going to do. So when he got his opportunity, I thought he was a step ahead of where he’s been before because he had some mental strength with it. And I think all those things have showed. He’s a better defender. He’s hitting threes. He’s hitting clutch shots. He’s running the team and showing that he can be a great point guard in the future. You can go down the line with all the great point guards in this league, and it took them a long time to get to the point that they were great point guards. Most of them were traded two or three times before they emerged to the stature they have now. So this speaks well for him.
Q. The NBA Trading Deadline is less than a week away (Feb. 19 at 3 p.m.). What is the likelihood of the Pacers making a deal?
A. I don’t think anything will get done, but I wouldn’t rule it out if we hear the right thing. We like our team. We’re not looking to change our team but, on the other hand, if somebody calls us up and offers something we have to look at, we’ll look at it. It’s not like we’re making a proclamation that we’ll never change this team. We’re saying we don’t think we have to change this team. It’s a good team. Everybody’s on the same page and doing the right things, and we have a good enough team to win with. But if something comes up, we’re open to it.
Q. What would you identify as the team's biggest need?
A. Shooting. That’s the only thing I can think of. And if you put Austin out there, put Jonathan out there, then even that gets better. All of our players have improved their shooting – Artest is improving, Tinsley, Anthony Johnson. But I’m talking about Reggie-type shooting. There aren’t a lot of teams that have that but at one time, we did. When we had (Chris) Mullin, Reggie, Rik (Smits), we had a lot of great shooting on that team. So we don’t have shooting like that team had but that’d be about it. We do have some advantages over that team. We’re more athletic, and we have a lot more mismatch possibilities with this team.
Q. Why are you confident this team can avoid falling into the same downward spiral that pulled the Pacers down after the All-Star break last season?
A. I don’t see anything that’s happened up to this point that would indicate that would happen. I think this year, we haven’t had the kind of things happen that kind of gave you some forewarning that you’ve got to be careful. Last year, the schedule was very difficult coming out of the All-Star break. This year, we don’t have the same kind of schedule and hopefully we won’t have the same kind of incidents that were beyond everyone’s control.
Q. How has the working dynamic between you and Bird evolved?
A. I love it. It’s everything I thought it would be. I love working with Larry. I’ve always liked that, but in this role, I value him being here because I think he’s more recent to playing days – which is an advantage – he’s got great ideas, he’s very clear about the way he thinks, he’s very focused about it. I’m looking forward to the day I can just give it to him.
Q. What is your favorite All-Star memory?
A. Rik Smits throwing a behind-the-back pass (during the 1998 All-Star Game). That’s it. That’s my only favorable All-Star memory.
Re: Q&A with Donnie Walsh, a lot of interesting comments
I dont seem to remember the rik smits' all star comment..
can some one fill me in..
You don't remember that? That behind-the-back pass Smits threw to uh...to...uh...you know...that guy. Classic.
It was Jayson Williams - yes that Jayson Williams this obviously was before he retired and got in trouble with the law.
Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
And life itself, rushing over me
Life itself, the wind in black elms,
Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you