|Donnie Walsh leaving Pacers; report has him headed to Knicks|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 25 March 2008 03:08|
Next question: Are the New York Knicks in his future?
Walsh, the Pacers' CEO and president since 1988, said Monday he would step aside after this season, his 24th year, giving operation of the troubled franchise a single voice under Hall of Famer Larry Bird.
Even before the announcement, however, there were media reports that he already has been talking with the Knicks.
Late Monday night, ESPN.com reported, citing an unidentified source, that Walsh was expected to sign a three-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks at the end of this season to oversee their basketball operations. What would happen to embattled Knicks coach and team president Isiah Thomas once Walsh joined the Knicks was not known, ESPN.com reported.
Knicks spokesman Jonathan Supranowitz told The Associated Press the team would not comment on the report.
Walsh also refused to comment on his future.
``As far as what I'm going to do, I'm not sure,'' the 67-year-old Walsh said at a news conference. ``As a result, I'm not going to comment on it until I have a better idea.''
In New York, Thomas wouldn't comment on speculation that Walsh could replace him, but praised his former boss with the Pacers.
``I don't comment on my job status and I'm sure not going to comment on anything that Donnie chooses to do or not do,'' Thomas said before the Knicks played New Jersey on Monday.
``He's had a great career, he's one of the best who's ever done it. I wish him great success and he's someone that I respect tremendously. He gave me my first coaching job and I truly do like him as a person and he's done a lot for the game.''
Walsh, who joined the Pacers as an assistant coach in 1984, became general manager in 1986 and president two years later. He hired Bird as coach in 1997, and after Bird moved into the front office in 2003, Walsh groomed him as his eventual successor.
``My real reason is, I think I've been here too long,'' Walsh said. ``It's not healthy for the franchise. ``I started thinking that the last two or three years. But you also want to see things get better.''
As president of basketball operations, Bird has shared many of the day-to-day operations with Walsh in recent years, a division of authority that has often led to confusion in dealing with other teams, Walsh said.
``Now it's one voice; it's mine,'' Bird said. ``Pressure is pressure. I've dealt with it in the past, and I'm looking forward to it.''
The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals six times and won the Central Division four times under Walsh. They made the NBA finals in 2000, when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, and had the league's best record in 2004 before the franchise began unraveling.
``It was a joy to spend time in Indiana under his leadership. Great man and a great basketball mind,'' said Mark Jackson, who played on the Pacers' finals team. ``Sad to see, being a member of the Pacers and knowing what he means to that organization and that community, but at the same time I wish him nothing but the very best because like I said, he's a great man and a great basketball mind. He's the best in the business.''
Starting with the brawl involving Indiana players and Detroit Pistons fans, the past three seasons have been littered with losing records, personnel changes and off-court issues that have damaged the team's once-shiny reputation.
Former Pacer Stephen Jackson pleaded guilty to criminal recklessness for firing gunshots in the air during a 2006 fight at a strip club; this year, Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley and several companions were targeted in a shooting that wounded the team's equipment manager outside a downtown hotel. And Tinsley and Marquis Daniels recently cut a deal with prosecutors to avoid trial on charges in a separate fight at a nightclub.
Recently, a murder suspect was arrested after he had been at the home of Pacers forward Shawne Williams and a rape was reported at Daniels' home. Neither player was charged and police said Daniels was not a suspect in the rape.
This season, Indiana has the NBA's worst attendance, and despite a current four-game winning streak, the Pacers (29-41) are still a game-and-a-half behind Atlanta for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
``Everyone was getting confused,'' Pacers co-owner Herb Simon said of the reason for announcing Walsh's decision now, rather than the end of the season. ``There were lots of rumors. Once I was convinced Donnie was really leaving, I thought it was best to let everyone else know.''
Walsh mentioned the possibility of retirement several times last season, when the Pacers went 35-47 and missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
``I really don't think this should come as a surprise,'' he said. ``I said this would be my last year, and now I'm completing what has been my dream job.''
AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in New York contributed to this report.