When you have accomplished as much in a career as Donnie Walsh has, it is logical to ask what keeps you coming to work every day? I did that recently during his season wrap-up with the local media and in his typical fashion, he didn’t hesitate to tell me what the answer was.
“When Larry Bird left, Herb Simon asked me to return and continue progress,” said the Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations. “I want to stay long enough until General Manager Kevin Pritchard gets developed more.”
Sounds somewhat logical I thought, but when you think about it, with his impeccable credentials and his impressive resume, what really is there for anyone of his stature to accomplish at this point?
“I’m enjoying myself,” added Walsh, “and while I am not doing all the things I once did, I still have the final say in terms of basketball decisions.”
Despite being clear about his role and his intentions, Walsh could not avoid the inevitable questions surrounding the reported possible return of Larry Bird to the Pacers front office. “I have told Larry that if he would like to return, that is fine, and I will step aside and allow such.”
While Bird has recently been linked to a similar opportunity with the Sacramento Kings, Walsh sounds like a man who is looking forward and not in the rear view mirror. He discussed the need to manage the salary cap effectively and confirmed that the Pacers were steadfast in their desire to re-sign free agent power forward David West.
However, the shadow that Bird casts is long, and while Walsh is undoubtedly secure in his position, it is only human nature to wonder what might happen if Bird were to express any interest in returning. Would the Pacers be better off with Bird at the helm? Not in my opinion.
I do indeed believe Walsh would bow out gracefully if the situation developed, but I cannot imagine any scenario in which that truly benefits the Pacers. Walsh has the respect of every executive in the NBA and seems genuinely happy to be back with the Pacers organization. That aside, he remains humble and seems focused on the upcoming season.
“If you would have asked me before the season if I expected this run without Danny Granger, I would have said no,” when he was asked to describe the season that ended in a game seven loss in the Eastern Conference Finals against defending NBA champion Miami. “We had a great year, but we can improve, and I think we will.”
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Notes: Walsh spoke candidly about Roy Hibbert when I asked him to share his thoughts on his maturation process as both a player and a man. He cited the marked improvement Hibbert displayed in the second half of the season after a woeful start. He went on to describe him as someone who wants to play the game the right way and has also done things off the floor the right way as well.
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The ongoing Bird saga can only be viewed as a distraction for the Pacers front office and it needs to be resolved quickly. Making decisions regarding the free agent market and preparing for the draft are of paramount importance and it shouldn’t be a cooperative effort between Walsh and Bird.
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Walsh also stated he did not have any concerns about rookies Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson, adding that it takes most rookies two, and in some cases three years to develop in the NBA.
Danny Bridges, who thinks Donnie Walsh is a first ballot selection for the Basketball Hall of Fame, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com.