TrueHoop: Donnie Walsh

Donnie Walsh will not be in Indianapolis tonight, much to the dismay of his two 125-pound dogs, Jack and Murph, but he will be pulling for the Butler Bulldogs in their NCAA Final Four game against Michigan State.

"I love Butler, and I’ll tell you why," Walsh said. "I was there when they brought in a coach, and he was great. Then he went somewhere else, and they brought another coach in, and he was great, then they brought in a coach that became the AD. I’m telling you, every time they hire a coach the guy is a great coach. And they get real great players from the area, and they are always good. They are always good. I think they got a great program, and they don’t get enough attention."

Walsh actually incorporated elements of the Butler Fieldhouse and the old Madison Square Garden (where he once played, representing Fordham Prep in a High School All-Star Game) into the design of Conseco Fieldhouse, something you can read more about in a blog item I have posted on the ESPNNewYork site.

Go ahead and give it a click. You'll even glean a little nugget of information regarding the job security of the person Chris Mullin would presumably replace 14 1/2 months from now if Walsh truly wants to groom Mullin as his successor.

Paul Westphal will play who he wants to play

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
10:57
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Yesterday, Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty made a nice little chart showing that the Kings have had the least consistent playing rotations in the NBA this season.

On the same day, Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee quoted three Kings: Sean May, Spencer Hawes, and Tyreke Evans, talking about how the strange minutes distribution (pity Donte Greene, who started a game, sat after four minutes, and never got back in) has been difficult for players.

To my reading, the most pointed quotes of all came from Evans, who was clear that he thinks the coach's decisions are hurting performance:

"Guys never know when they'll be having their time to play or they might be (starting)," Evans said.

"They're going into the game confused, and when they get into the game they want to impress the coach and (try) to play well. … It's probably hard for a player to keep that focus when they know that if they're playing bad they might not go in again."



Hawes, meanwhile, was mushier, mostly just saying that it was tough, which is fairly obvious:

"All year we've kind of been dealing with that," he said. "When you think you have kind of gotten over that hump, it comes back up again. That's the philosophy, so you've just got to deal with it.

"Everyone up and down the roster has had a taste of that, so everyone can relate. I think it's kind of tough, the not-knowing part on a game-to-game basis, to get in that rhythm. But that's the way it's going and there's not a whole lot you can do about it."



In any case, rather than reacting to all that feedback with some ode to improved consistency, Westphal instead decided to try another new roster manuever. He made Hawes (and only Hawes) inactive last night against Detroit. That was specifically in response to those kinds of comments. Hawes has started the majority of the games this season. Westphal explained the move to the Bee's Jason Jones:

"I saw where he's having a hard time understanding his role," said Kings coach Paul Westphal. "He should understand it (after) tonight."



I know what you're thinking. What a lot of drama! I wonder what the next conversation between Hawes and Westphal will be like?

They could make a reality show out of that locker room scene!

Well, in a hilarious, imagined, animated robotic way, they did. I insist you watch that. Honestly.

UPDATE: Similar insight into Daryl Morey's negotiations with Donnie Walsh.

Monday Bullets

August, 17, 2009
8/17/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Being Donnie Walsh

October, 27, 2008
10/27/08
5:33
PM ET

It's not easy being Donnie Walsh. Everyone likes him. He's smart, accessible, tough, experienced ... all that stuff. He's an NBA good guy.

But now he's on the front lines, taking flak for one of the nuttiest organizations in sports.

In New York magazine, Chris Smith tells us what it's like to be Donnie Walsh, repatriated New Yorker. (He got pretty amazing access: Smith tells us what the bartender said this summer when Walsh walked into Elio's, an upper-East Side Italian place, for his celebratory welcome-to-New York dinner with David Stern.)

I particularly loved this passage (I added the dashes, to make it family friendly):

Walsh copes with the stress by meditating. He sits in the most comfortable chair in his new apartment on the Upper West Side, closes his eyes, and tunes out the world. Walsh has been taking a Zen vacation at least once a day for 25 years now. No particular crisis in his life prompted his interest in meditation. "Maybe it was because I saw something on television about it," Walsh says. "It clears my mind. I think too much, and if you're not thinking all the time, maybe you put yourself in a better position to make a decision. But I'm not Zen-ing out all over the place."

Indeed, all the years of wins and losses haven't dulled Walsh's passion. Last week, he exited cursing from a blowout Knicks loss to the Celtics -- an exhibition-game loss. One of Walsh's most vivid memories is from the 1995 playoff game at the Garden in which the Pacers beat the Knicks, with Reggie Miller scoring a ridiculous eight points in 8.9 seconds -- and how Walsh, in a fit of fury, missed most of the incredible comeback. "I'm sitting there, and the Knicks get up six points; there's like twenty seconds left," he says. "I get disgusted. I'm pissed at our team. I get out of my seat. I go down the tunnel and I go into the locker room and I shut the door. I'm in there cursing: 'Motherf-----s!' All of a sudden there's a knock on the door and it's Mel Daniels: 'Donnie! Reggie just tied the game!' And I say, 'Quit f---ing with me! I'm not in the mood!' I'm yelling at him, and he's laughing. We find a TV. I see John Starks miss two foul shots; Reggie gets the rebound, and he gets fouled. I look at Mel and say, 'Are you f---ing telling me we're gonna win this f---ing game?' "

For no good reason: Video of Reggie Miller's two three-pointers in that most remarkable comeback.

In 2000, I went to my first NBA Finals games, at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The weather was good, the building was brand new, and the Pacers were going toe-to-toe with Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.

Although it didn't turn out so well for the Pacers -- they lost the series and have not returned to the Finals since, while Conseco is a ghost town these days -- that was a fine moment for a proud franchise.

It was the kind of experience Knick fans haven't even been able to dream about in recent years.

One thing that really stood out to me about that week, was that the ringleader of the whole deal was so ... available. Donnie Walsh was hardly hiding away in some executive suite. He was out and about, all week long. There he was in the stands, shaking hands. He was smiling as he talked to players and coaches. And during shootarounds, and practices, there he was in the stands, watching Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Travis Best, Dale Davis, Austin Croshere and the like put in their work.Donnie Walsh

You had a question for him? Sure, plop on down. He didn't know me from Adam, but he took plenty of time to talk nuanced basketball. Through his undeniable New York accent -- a tad out of place in Hoosier country -- he talked about the strategy he used to build the team, what he liked best about some of his players, and how he thought the Finals might play out.

The conversation didn't feel like an executive talking to a reporter. It seemed like a guy who knows a lot about basketball talking to a friend. He was not at all guarded -- there certainly was no PR minder hanging around -- and everything he said made sense.

Compare that to the tortured scene at Madison Square Garden.

Last November, the New York Observer's John Koblin chronicled the ways that the Knicks have been relating to the media and the public:

What really separates the complaints of Knicks writers from those of every other browbeaten city reporter-and reporters are definitely a whiny lot-are their unironic, and apparently accurate, tales of systematic repression.

"It's the gulag," said Mike Vaccaro, a columnist for the New York Post.

"We all know what it's like to cover a normal team," said Mr. Beck, who previously reported on the Lakers for the L.A. Daily News. "Covering the Knicks is so much worse."

"Some of the things they practice here are completely against what you'd expect a normal team to do," said Mr. Hahn, a second-year reporter on the beat who said that he now misses his old job as a hockey reporter covering the provincial New York Islanders. "They come up with things all the time. There's zero access to players. They would rather you don't even write."

The stories from the reporters are endless: layers of institutional paranoia; public relations officials who openly eavesdrop on private conversations with executives and players; the threat-and implementation-of cutting off reporters who are perceived to be critical of the team.

"Everyone is so worried about upsetting Jim Dolan, or getting fired, and as a result people aren't themselves," said Mr. Beck. "If you transplanted the same individuals and put them in another city, then they'd be far more interesting. They'd be themselves."

In the tangle of relationships between a sports team, fans, and the media, winning really does cure just about everything. But that's probably not an option right now for these Knicks.

In the interim, the Knicks, as a cultural institution and a business entity, are in dire need of infusion of credibility and honesty. They need to go about re-building trust with a jaded fan base. On that basis alone, Donnie Walsh is an inspired pick.

Best of all, ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reports that Walsh will have the power to change how the team relates to the public and the media:

An NBA source told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Knicks yielded to Walsh's wishes on several key terms regarding authority and autonomy in reaching agreement on a four-year deal that installs Walsh as the new team president.

The Knicks are expected to introduce Walsh at a news conference at 1 p.m. ET.

Walsh will report directly to owner James Dolan, rather than to Madison Square Garden president Steve Mills, as was the arrangement under previous Knicks administrations.

Walsh will also have the authority to establish a new media policy, one that presumably will allow him -- and the Knicks' players -- to have full freedom of speech.

The Knicks have long had the simplistic idea that the best thing for the team was to hide the bad news while hyping the good news. That game only works so long -- there is only room in that closet for so many skeletons, you know?

Knick fans have essentially been told that "everything is great" through the most bizarre series of mis-steps: Disgruntled players, an injured star who dreams of playing in Italy, ineffective trades, massive salaries, a sexual harassment settlement, and countless tales of general organizational creepiness.

They don't make lipstick big enough for that pig. Even trying to gloss it up is an insult to the truth.

Restoring credibility is a long, slow, tedious walk on a road paved with painful honesty. Think of it like a marriage: you get busted cheating, suddenly it's no good to making promises of loyalty. At that point it's all about establishing that you're the kind of person who deliver tough news in a straightforward manner. (To put this in the corniest possible terms, there's a Billy Joel line: "You've given the best of you, but now I need the rest of you.")

In the long run, winning will be the best possible things for the franchise. (ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote an in-depth piece about what it will take -- his recipe is to buy out Stephon Marbury, trade one of the highly paid big men, shed salary as possible, and draft like crazy. It's a long road to title town.)

The Knicks are lucky: smack dab in the middle of the biggest market in America, they can always sell tickets, and they can afford talent. If they believe the team is headed in the right direction, Knick fans will happily cling to the tiniest signs of progress. And the cupboard is not totally bare. There are some talented players like Jamal Crawford, Renaldo Balkman, and David Lee who could be part of the long-term solution.

Donnie Walsh is highly respected by his peers for his ability to rebuild a team -- in Indiana, he even managed to re-tool once without going below the salary cap, something that might appeal to the Knicks. Hopefully he proves worthy of the accolades he has been receiving as a basketball strategist. The good news, however, is that Walsh can help the franchise immensely even before he waives his first player, by bringing credibility, honesty, and daylight to what has been a sunless corner of the NBA.

UPDATE: Press conference live

(Photo: Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images)

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