Simon optimistic of quick turnaround

Co-owner Herbert Simon and CEO Donnie Walsh discuss a Pacers game in Conseco Fieldhouse.
(Frank McGrath/Pacers)
Herbert Simon, who with brother Melvin owns Pacers Sports & Entertainment, conducted an in-depth interview with reporter Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star on Friday, March 7, 2008. was present to record the following transcript.

Q. What do you think about everything that's going on with this team, not just on the court but off the court?
A. Well, let's put it this way: we've owned the team for 25 years and we think it's an important part of the city. We're very proud of a lot of things that have happened, being in the playoffs 16 times out of 18 years, the conference finals six times, the NBA Finals. We've always tried to run this as a first-class operation but we know we're challenged by a smaller market. We'll talk about the negatives in a minute but the positives are we do have a nucleus of very, very fine, upstanding players who play hard every day. We've been bitten by injuries but this is no excuse nor am I making any excuses for the behavioral problems that have been evident on this team. We just have to do a better job in screening our players so that these things don't happen again.

Q. Most basketball fans look at it like, 'Why can't they just get rid of the players that are involved in these incidents?' How tough a situation are you in, given that you have long-term contracts and in the NBA contracts are guaranteed no matter what?
A. I think the one thing you've seen about our organization is that when there is a problem with a player, we move rapidly to do something about it. As you know, we've traded some players we felt didn't belong in our community – not that they're bad people and not that there was anything wrong but the perception was just negative. We will continue to act quickly and responsibly but again, there are rules and regulations and impediments to do this in every situation.

Q. As the co-owner, how much do you encourage Donnie (Walsh) and Larry (Bird) to make moves or trying to rid some of the problems?
A. I'm very vocal about the problems and I'm frustrated and disappointed but I still have faith in most of our players and the fact that the franchise is really working hard and will continue to work hard to make the necessary changes to correct some of the problems we've had.

Q. Obviously, this is Larry's first season with complete control of player personnel. What do you think of the job he's doing?
A. It's his first season so he's done some very good things and there are some things that probably he would change. I'm not a basketball expert. I'm interested in how our team performs, how we relate to the community and that we should all be proud of the product. Winning is important, but also how we present ourselves to the community. In that case, we've all done a horrible job, apparently. To have one incident after another happen, it's almost like we're snake-bit. We can almost pinpoint when things changed with this franchise. Ever since Detroit, we seem to have one problem after another. But we've had 21 great years where we were a shining example in the community. Now it is my responsibility – and, believe me, I'm going to get on it – to restore that kind of image of our team so we can all be proud of them and concentrate on winning and losing and not so much on outside incidents.

Q. In your 25 years of ownership, is this the lowest point or have you endured rougher times?
A. In the beginning, we didn't have any fans and we didn't have any victories. In the beginning, that was rough and as a new owner at the time I took it very personally. And then we went through 16-to-18 pretty good years of being in the playoffs, being a contending team, being well-thought-of in the community. But the last three years have been one incident after another. It's not that all these players are bad people, they just make bad judgments and they're in the wrong place. We don't have a community that can tolerate this kind of behavior.

Q. Are you surprised by the attendance figures this season, considering this is a basketball state?
A. It's a shock and it's something we never thought would happen to us. And we've got to correct it.

Q. Forbes Magazine reported the franchise lost about $12.5 million two years ago and $1.3 million last season. Are those figures pretty accurate?
A. Probably not.

Q. I assume you're under the impression the franchise will lose money again this season?
A. Yes, I'm sure that's going to happen this year.

Q. What's your outlook as far as remaining the owner of this team? Is it something you plan to stay with for awhile?
A. Are you trying to get rid of me? I have no plans not to own the team.

Q. If and when it does get to that point, would you like to keep it in the Simon family?
A. I have absolutely no plans other than to keep it just the way it is, yes.

Q. Obviously, Donnie has said he's playing it year-by-year. Do you have the feeling he'll be back next season?
A. We're in the midst of a long conversation which will be probably resolved in the next couple of weeks when I come into Indianapolis. We're talking about restructuring, re-thinking, all the things you do when your team is in crisis. We're going to be having a series of meetings and we're going to make changes, yes.

Q. When you say you're going to make changes, are you looking at the roster?
A. Everything but the owner right now.

Q. How confident are you that things can get turned around and get back to being a proud franchise again?
A. I'm committed to that and I expect it to turn around as early as next year, maybe even this year. We have a good core of players. We might even surprise everyone and make the playoffs. But even if we don't, we've got a good core of players that we can build on. We've had some outside incidents that we have to prevent from happening by better screening or whatever new systems we have to put in there. We think we're on top of everything. We think we use the latest methods but so far we haven't shown that yet so we've got to strive to do better.

Q. With Larry being an Indiana legend, he gets a lot of criticism. Considering this is his first year, do you think he needs several years before you can offer an opinion on his job? Or, because he's in that role, do you have to take it year by year?
A. The problems we're having are not a question of whether Larry's doing a good job or Donnie's doing a good job. These are situations that it's easy to assess the blame. We're responsible for all the things that have happened but I can't point my fingers at anybody and say, 'It's your fault' right now.