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Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh leaving team after season

Monday, March 24, 2008

By STEVE HERMAN

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Donnie Walsh's career with the Indiana Pacers will end after this season, giving operation of the troubled franchise a single voice under Hall of Famer Larry Bird.

"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."

Walsh, the team's CEO and president since 1988, said Monday he would step aside after this season, his 24th year with the Pacers. He would not comment on his future, including media reports that he already has been talking with the New York Knicks about taking over as their president.

"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, Isiah Thomas wouldn't comment on speculation that Walsh could replace him, but praised his former boss with the Pacers.

"He's had a great career, he's one of the best who's ever done it," Thomas said before the Knicks played New Jersey. "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 three years later, Walsh groomed him as his eventual successor.

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.

"My real reason is, I think I've been here too long," he 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."

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.



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