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Looking back at the Nets “priest, rabbi, bartender, psychologist” ... and trainer

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NBA.com

A year and a half after the Nets replaced him as trainer, Tim Walsh has finally spoken, giving an extensive interview with Stefan Bondy.

In the interview, Walsh, who describes his job as “the priest, the rabbi, the bartender and psychologist," talks about his time with the Knicks as well as the Nets, revealing a few things about players on both squads and reflecting on his departure from the Nets.

Other than how he famously saved the lives of Mirza Teletovic and assistant Jim Sann, the best of the stories Walsh reveals are those related to Vince Carter’s famous collapses on the Continental AIrlines Arena floor. On more than one occasion a year, the arena would fall silent as VC lay motionless, “like he was about two minutes from expiring,” as Rod Thorn described the phenomenon to Bondy.

Carter only missed 11 games as a Net —all losses— during his five years in New Jersey, but as Walsh and Thorn recount, the number might very well have been higher if it wasn’t for Walsh. The biggest may have been during a crucial game in 2005.

During his first season with the Nets in 2004-05, the future Hall of Famer was dealing with Achilles bursitis and frequently in pain.

With New Jersey needing a victory in the final game to get into the playoffs, Carter was kicked in the heel in the first quarter at Boston and stormed off the court. Walsh quickly followed Carter, shooed away the trailing doctors and stopped the player before he got inside the locker room.

"I said, 'No we're not going in there,'" Walsh recalled. "I said, 'Vince, if we go in there, you're going to cut the tape off and put ice on it and you're done.'

"I said, 'Right now is when heroes are made. We're going to go out there and take a minute, let this thing calm down.'"

Carter relented and went on to score 37 points in a 102-93 win over Boston ... and New Jersey made the playoffs, losing to the eventual NBA champion Heat.

Walsh talks as well about how Courtney Lee went to the wrong arena for a game.

"(Lee) calls me and says, 'I'm at MSG. There's nobody here,'" Walsh recalled. "I say, 'That's because the game is at the Izod Center.'"

Although Lee arrived late after commuting back through the Lincoln Tunnel, he still made the pregame team meeting and nobody knew about the snafu. Walsh had hidden his jersey in the X-ray room so it would be assumed Lee changed and was warming up, rather than fighting rush hour traffic

Walsh has said the toughest player he ever worked with was Jason Kidd (duh!) but the most difficult was Gerald Wallace. No matter how bad he was hurt, Wallace thought he should play.

"Gerald Wallace drove me nuts," Walsh said of the former Nets forward. "This guy had stuff where he shouldn't be playing. He just banged his knee, he can't walk. He's going to come in and I'm going to have to tell him he's not playing and I know he's going to want to argue with me. He's going to tackle me, he's going to want to kick my ass. But with him, I would just hide his uniform. I would get the uniform and put it away. He would walk in and it wouldn't be in his locker.

Walsh talks at length about how he went out of his way to get a second opinion on Teletovic’s shortness of breath out in Los Angeles and how he (and then assistant trainers Lloyd Beckett and Alessandro Oliveira) sprang into to action when Sann went down. Bondy reveals there was yet another instance when Walsh was critical in saving a player’s life, but the trainer won’t provide details other than “it involved a player ‘in bad, bad shape’ lying next to his bed in the hotel room.”

As for his departure from the Nets, which Bondy describes as “unceremonious,” Walsh is somewhat sanguine. "Was I angry? I had my moments. I do. I thought, and still think, and know, that I gave everything I had to the organization," Walsh said. "But I had to respect the fact that my contract was up and they wanted somebody else."

Sean Marks in fact wanted a different approach. The trainer (Beckett replaced Walsh) would be part of a performance team that would place a heavy emphasis on sports science and headed by Zach Weatherford, who formerly had run the performance program for the Navy SEALS.

Bondy tries to link the loss of Walsh and the arrival of the performance team concept to the Nets injury issues.

The Nets have been pummeled by debilitating problems involving their two best players, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, along with several injuries to other key players. They also have the worst record in the NBA since Walsh left and, in a telling move, Lin decided to conduct his rehab at a private facility away from the team.

Of course, bad fortune plays a role in injury. In 2011-12, with Walsh as trainer, the Nets finished 30th in games lost to injury, according to InStreetClothes.com. No one blamed Walsh for that. Their best finish was fourth in 2005-06. In the performance team’s first year, the Nets finished 20th in games lost, seventh in dollars lost. And the team’s five-year rank — four years with Walsh, one with the performance team— they’re 19th. In fact, the Nets lost fewer games to injury last year than they had the year before.

As for Lin, there were questions about how the performance team dealt with his hamstring injury, their first big challenge, but publicly at least, players have praised the way the Nets have dealt with performance-related issues. As for the decision to move Lin’s rehab to Vancouver, no one is saying much, but Lin, who has been injury-prone, said it’s about building up his body, not just rehabbing his ruptured patellar tendon.

There’s a lot more in the Bondy’s profile, particularly about Patrick Ewing.