SBD/Issue 134/Franchises

Walsh Plans To Get Knicks Under Salary Cap, Change Media Policy

Walsh Plans To Get Knicks Under Salary Cap Soon
Former Pacers exec Donnie Walsh, who was officially introduced as Knicks President of Basketball Operations at a press conference yesterday, “presented himself as the antisavior,” according to Howard Beck of the N.Y. TIMES. Walsh: “I’m not the great new hope. I’m just a guy that's going to come in and try to create a team. And it’s not going to happen overnight. So I don’t want any illusions.” However, Walsh did “set out some goals.” He said that he “wanted the Knicks to become competitive in the short term, and to get under the salary cap in the next two to three years.” Walsh “seemed to be eyeing the summer of 2010, when [Cavaliers F] LeBron James, [Heat G] Dwyane Wade and [Raptors F] Chris Bosh can become free agents.” Walsh said that having the chance to sign a major free agent "would be a monstrous thing for this franchise. You can turn something overnight in a lot of ways if you can manage the cap the right way now.” Walsh will report directly to MSG Chair James Dolan, but Dolan said Walsh will have “complete control over all basketball operations.” Beck notes that includes a “re-examination of the team’s unusually restrictive policies on dealing with the news media.” Walsh said that he “would not have taken the job without autonomy.” Dolan said Walsh’s “mandate is clear: do whatever is necessary to turn this team around. Our fans have been patient and loyal and deserve to have hope.” Dolan, who “spoke publicly for the first time in a year'' at the Walsh press conference, read from a prepared statement and "left without taking questions” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/2). A source said that Walsh’s contract is worth “about $20[M] over four years, although the final year is not fully guaranteed” (ESPN.com, 4/2).

BIG APPLE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote, in Walsh, Dolan “hired the preferred choice” of NBA Commissioner David Stern (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/2). Stern: “I am pleased for both the Knicks and Donnie Walsh. In Donnie, the Knicks have secured the services of a seasoned basketball professional who is held in high regard throughout the league and to whom I have often turned for input on basketball matters over the years” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/3). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said the hiring of  Walsh by the Knicks “is not just happenstance.” Wilbon: “The league likes and endorses this because the league is tired of sitting there in town, a few blocks away, with a team – a signature team – that stinks. They’re tired of this. So Donnie Walsh has all power and I’m sure was promised all power” ("SportsCenter,'' ESPN, 4/2).
Nets President Rod Thorn: “It helps to have a strong team in the biggest market in the country. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. I don’t know if it’s of primary importance, because the league is doing well and some of the best teams aren’t in major markets. But you generate more publicity if you have a strong team in its largest market” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/3). ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, on the Knicks hiring Walsh: “You have to respect the decision that (MSG Chair) James Dolan made, at least for a change. ... (Walsh) is considered one of the best executives in the business, so you can’t knock that choice” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/2).

Thomas' Days With Knicks
Appear To Be Numbered
THOMAS' FUTURE: ESPN.com’s Chris Sheridan wrote Walsh’s hiring means Knicks coach Isiah Thomas has been “stripped of his team presidency, and the question of how -- or if -- the Knicks plan to part ways with Thomas entirely will be the first test of Walsh’s leadership” (ESPN.com, 4/2). In N.Y., Frank Isola writes Thomas’ days are “numbered, but Walsh, who spoke briefly to Thomas a few days ago, will allow him to finish the season and is extending him the courtesy of an exit interview.” A source said that Walsh is “adamant that he will make a coaching change.”  (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/3). ESPN.com's Sheridan said, "I think (Walsh) felt if he came in on his first day as president and fired the head coach, that would kind of be seen as grandstanding and it would lead people to believe that there's going to be quick fixes here" ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 4/2). In New Jersey, Ian O'Connor writes Walsh is either going to fire Thomas "outright or marginalize him into oblivion" (Bergen RECORD, 4/3). ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith: “I know everybody is thinking the way to go for the New York Knicks and Donnie Walsh is to get rid of Isiah Thomas first. I say no. It’s really not about him. Get rid of the whole roster” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/2).

Presidential Pardon? Thomas “made it clear Wednesday that he doesn’t want to go anywhere.” He was “steadfast in saying he wants to be involved in some capacity and will sell himself and his philosophies to Walsh.” Thomas: “I think with any new boss, you have to sell your program and there will be some things that hopefully he’ll like and I’m sure there will be some things that he wants to change.” (NEWSDAY, 4/3). Walsh confirmed that he has “spoken with Thomas more than once about taking over for him as president -- and that Thomas expressed a desire and willingness to work with him.” On Long Island, Ken Berger writes, “So it is exactly as we suspected: Thomas has been directly involved in planning his own funeral. And he already has Dolan and Walsh acting not as undertakers, but paramedics.” (NEWSDAY, 4/3). ESPN's Skip Bayless said Thomas "campaigned for Donnie Walsh to replace him as the team builder ... which gave me pause because I think Isiah is angling for the one guy who wouldn't balk at keeping Isiah as the coach" ("First and Ten," ESPN, 4/2). In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes Walsh can “give Thomas the last seven games of this season and that is all he gets and then he goes, just because Donnie Walsh is much too smart a basketball guy to let him stay” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/3).

MILLS STAYING: On Long Island, Alan Hahn notes MSG President Steve Mills, who was “front-and-center when [Thomas] was welcomed into the organization, never stepped foot on the stage” during yesterday’s press conference. There was “some speculation that Mills could be the fall guy in the wake of the Knicks’ disastrous season.” But Mills “will keep his position and will continue to be in charge of the business operations for the Garden’s three sports franchises,” the Knicks, NHL Rangers and WNBA Liberty, and the other sports properties (NEWSDAY, 4/3). In N.Y., Fred Kerber notes Walsh will not report to Mills, who "appears to have lost his Knicks clout" (N.Y. POST, 4/3).

SO FAR, SO GOOD: In N.Y., George Vecsey writes Walsh was “discreet and polite and yet interesting. We are not used to that at [MSG].” The “nice part about Walsh was that he did not condescend.” Walsh is "formidable enough to have wrested autonomy from [Dolan], who has employed assorted watchdogs and listening devices as a form of intimidation toward his coaches Larry Brown and Thomas. Walsh apparently would not take the job without the freedom to speak without an underling sticking a recording device in his face.” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/3). Also in N.Y., Steve Serby writes Walsh “said all the right things yesterday” (N.Y. POST, 4/3). In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence writes, “Walsh was honest and as open as he could be.” Walsh “admitted that he doesn’t have ‘a magic wand’” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/3). On Long Island, Shaun Powell writes the reason Dolan “may have gotten this one right was revealed when Walsh drew up his blueprint for restoring the Knicks.” Powell: “Finally, someone in the organization gets it. Finally, someone sees the value of putting the Knicks, with more resources than anyone in basketball, in position to go after superstars or trade for superstars” (NEWSDAY, 4/3).

Walsh Plans To Loosen Dolan's Strict Media Policy
MEDIA MATTERS: In N.Y., Sandomir & Beck note Walsh’s hiring “will presumably mean the end of public-relations officials monitoring player and coach interviews and typing notes into their Blackberrys to alert Dolan to any comments that are potentially provocative.” Walsh said that he is “aware of problems between the Knicks and the news media.” When Walsh mentioned the policy to Dolan during their contract negotiations, he said Dolan told him, “Fine, then you take it over.” Walsh said that the new policy will be “more open, but did not say how” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/3). On Long Island, Neil Best writes the Knicks' media relations "grew so bleak it led to an extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented, demand from an incoming New York sports executive: Walsh insisted upon the power to set media policy.” Walsh: “Basically we’re going to sit down and try to make a media policy that is more open, more accessible but at the same time protects [the media] and protects the players and whoever else is on line to be part of it.” Walsh “promised to seek input from reporters, and likely will reach out to editors, too” (NEWSDAY, 4/3). However, in N.Y., Bob Raismann writes talk of a new media policy is a “spin designed to get Walsh off on the good foot with media movers and shakers while quickly distancing himself from the cockroaches who populate Dolan's Fun House.” If Walsh is “really sincere about changing the ‘media policy,’ he will fire those responsible -- each and every one -- for running [MSG’s] PR operation” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/3).

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