INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Less than a month after Donnie Walsh announced he would step down as CEO of the Indiana Pacers, he'll return to Conseco Fieldhouse as president of the New York Knicks.
Walsh's past and present, Indiana and New York, meet Wednesday in the season finale for both teams. Walsh said he didn't realize until about a week ago that he'd be returning to Indiana so soon.
``It'll never be business as usual when I go back there,'' Walsh told the Associated Press Tuesday in a telephone interview. ``I spent 24 great years there. I love the people there, and I want to see the people. When I see them, I'm going to be happy to see them. But I'm going to feel different, there's no doubt about 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.
Walsh would like to have similar success in New York, but first, he has to figure out who will help him achieve it. Walsh said he hasn't made a decision on coach Isiah Thomas' future. Thomas has a 56-107 record in two seasons in New York.
``I've been talking to Isiah,'' Walsh said. ``We'll continue the conversation. When I get ready to make any kind of an announcement, I'll make it. I want to talk further with him.''
Walsh, who joined the Pacers as an assistant coach in 1984, became general manager in 1986 and president two years later. He hired Larry Bird as coach in 1997, and after Bird returned as president in 2003, Walsh groomed him as his eventual successor.
Walsh also played a significant role in the building of the Fieldhouse, which opened in 1999.
``I know when I actually walk into the arena, I'm going to feel strange,'' he said.
Walsh still keeps an eye on the Pacers. Indiana won 10 of 14 to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff chase before it was eliminated with a loss at Washington on Monday night.
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Walsh sees a bright future for the Pacers and Bird.
``I think even though we knew we would have to add to that team, I think that there's a core of players that are going to go forward and do great things for them.''
He also sees potential in the Knicks, who have been banged up all season and lately have been showcasing young talent. Rookie Wilson Chandler averaged 18 points and 7.8 rebounds in a four-game stretch before he was hurt Monday night after an awkward landing while going for a rebound against Boston. An MRI on Tuesday revealed a bone bruise, and the forward from DePaul is expected to be on crutches for two weeks.
``We have a lot of players out, and Isiah's playing some of the guys about half the game,'' Walsh said. ``I've been impressed with what I've seen from some of the young players. I think they've been competing hard and trying to win the games. They're probably outmanned, so they don't win all the games, but they've won their share.''

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