The Pacers No. 1 priority this offseason was to re-sign Lance Stephenson. That obviously didn’t happen as many expected. They didn’t have a draft pick, and signed a handful of free agents.
Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh talked with Brian Geltzeiler and Noah Coslov on SiriusXM NBA Radio Saturday morning. Walsh doesn’t speak with the media often but when he does, like Larry Bird, he’s fascinating to hear his take and he’s going to be honest.
Read his comments below on Stephenson, a pair of free agent signings, the team’s outlook for next season, what went wrong last season from his perspective, and the issue with Roy Hibbert. If you prefer to listen, scroll down to the media player at the bottom.
On losing Lance Stephenson in free agency:
“Look, we wanted to keep Lance. We felt like he did a lot of really positive things for our team, and that the amount of things he did would be hard to replace them in one player. But having had that happen, I think we came out about as well as we could’ve hoped by getting C.J. Miles and [Rodney] Stuckey. Stuckey is a playmaker, and can take over that part of what Lance did on occasion for us. And plus, he’s a solid player. I hope this is a good environment for him because I think he’ll thrive in a good environment.
“And C.J. Miles is a guy that can score the ball. He certainly did against us. He got 21 in a quarter against us last year in one game. So we know he can shoot it. He’s a 3-point shooter, but he can do more than that. He can play. So we have two good guys to replace Lance, and then we have Paul George, who’s a wing player, and we have Solomon Hill, who’s also a really good player. [He's] a rookie that we think can defend in this league for sure, and maybe do more but he hasn’t played yet. These guys, I think, are going to be good for us.
“So we think we’re going to have a good team. Like any team anywhere, at this point, you probably have talent but you have to become a team, and that will be our challenge – to become a team with this group of guys. We have been on occasion this year and definitely the year before. We became a very good team and probably were better as a whole than we were in the parts.”
On if he was surprised about Stephenson taking a shorter deal for less money:
“I was surprised at that to be quite honest. I was worried about Lance in that there are a lot of teams out there with big money and when you get into the free-agent period, usually teams will over extend themselves because they know to get a guy away from another team, it’s going to take probably more money than if you were in a straight negotiation with the player. So I was expecting some real high numbers, which we’d try to react to. And that didn’t happen.
“We gave him the top number we could’ve given him thinking, ‘This is the most money we can give you.’ And so we gave it to him. And when he didn’t take that, I was thinking he was probably going to get a big number. As it turned out, he got about the same as three years (with us), no two years really. It’s a two-year deal with an option on the part of the team for the third year. That surprised me. I kind of get his thinking but I was surprised that he did that.”
On Indiana not being a free-agent destination:
“Not by the press. And maybe not by fans who look and go, ‘Why would you go there?’ And since they haven’t been there, they don’t have any idea why anyone would go there. But that’s not true in the league, it’s not true with agents, it’s not true with players. There may be some players that are looking for something they can’t get here, I’m not saying that. The one thing that we try to let everyone know is that we’re about basketball here. In other words, if you come here our whole focus is going to be on the kind of basketball surrounding your end, the place you play, the things we have around the team, the medical team. All of those things that are important to a basketball team we try to emphasize here.
“We’re a small-market team so we can’t go out and throw gigantic dollars at free agents, and we know that. We try to … go through the draft, get players that we think can get better. And then we do extend ourself to sign them. But normally when we do that, that’s because we’re winning games and when you’re winning games, you’re money is good.
“And also in the free-agent market, as I said before, we try to go out and see players who fit in with what we’ve got and can maybe be a better player with us than they can be with some other team. And on top of that, you’ve got to add player development into it because if you get these young players, there are not going to be terrific players right away. But if you can get them and teach them how to be a pro player, then you get surprises. You get a lot of surprises of how much better they can get.”
On whether the Pacers’ issues over the second half of last season were overblown:
“I think the issues are overblown in the sense that we have such a perfect team in many ways. That if anything goes wrong, then … it becomes bigger than it really is. So I don’t think we were really concerned over the long haul about whatever was going on.
“Personally, I think it was just a case that we got out so fast, our record was so good, and our players had never been in that position before, that we became a little lackadaisical, a little overconfident in our ability to win games without really going back to playing like a team, playing at 100 percent and playing great defense. So we were coasting in some games – and we won those games. So then, when that happened, then our play seemed to come down for a while.
“I think our players tried to get it back right before the season ended and I think to a degree they did. But when you do that, you’re not going to be as good as if you kept getting better every day leading into the playoffs. I think we suffered for it. I think our players, and coaches, and everyone in the front office understands what happened. I don’t think it’s a monumental thing. I think we just need to go back to what we are, and if we do that we’ll be a real good team.”
On what was Roy Hibbert’s issue:
“I really don’t know. … The one thing I don’t do with Roy is focus on his scoring because his value, his supreme value to us is protecting the rim, getting rebounds, and doing big man things. He can score and if you get him the ball, he will score. But there were many games he didn’t get the ball or it was hard for him to get the ball, and then when he got it he didn’t do what he wanted to do with the ball so I think he kind of lost confidence or something and went through a period where he wasn’t what he normally would be.
“He did the same thing the year before but then realized his value to the team wasn’t to be judged in points, and even number of rebounds in some sense. It’s just his presence on the floor and his ability to change shots that really helps our team.”
Listen to the audio below: