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Donnie Walsh had a verbal agreement weeks ago with Knicks Owner James Dolan to "return as team president with full autonomy in basketball operations," but when Walsh "got the contract documents in recent days, there were addendums regarding the power structure with which he was uncomfortable," according to Marc Berman of the N.Y. POST. Walsh was "willing to take a paycut," from $4.5M this past season to roughly $2.5M, "to finish the job of returning the Knicks to NBA relevance," but the last contract offer "became the final straw in his tumultuous relationship with Dolan." The "wording in the contract did not give Walsh full and final authority to hire and groom his successor -- which was something he sought." On Friday, Walsh said that he "decided to leave because he didn't want to commit beyond one more season, and Dolan wanted him for at least a two-year deal because of the potential NBA lockout July 1." A source said that Walsh "did not have the desire to work for Dolan for another two years, especially with his family in Indiana." Knicks Senior VP/Basketball Operations Glen Grunwald will serve as interim President and "can fill the bill, especially during the lockout." Berman noted former Nuggets President Mark Warkentien, "hired by the Knicks on an interim basis to help with the NBA Draft and Carmelo Anthony negotiations, could be a strong candidate to replace Walsh." Dolan, despite his friendship with Florida Int'l Univ. basketball coach Isiah Thomas, is "not considering the former Knicks president and coach as a candidate to replace Walsh." MSG officials "finally have convinced the Knicks owner it is not the wise move" (N.Y. POST, 6/4).
THE TIME WAS RIGHT: In N.Y., Bondy & Isola noted Walsh "denied he had any problems with owner Dolan and said the decision to part ways was mutual." But in addition to the decrease in salary, a Knicks source indicated that Dolan "refused to agree to give Walsh full autonomy and told Walsh to draw up a list of candidates for general manager that he, Dolan, would approve." Walsh admitted that the "issue of Isiah Thomas' continued influence on Dolan was 'annoying,' but only because the press made it a big deal." Walsh: "I had a very good relationship with Jim. He treated me very well. I never could understand reports that he wasn't or that we weren't getting along." He maintained that his "decision to leave was based on his own level of commitment" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/4). In N.Y., Peter Vecsey reported, "His exit stage right is as pure as it gets; it’s strictly about wanting to do what’s best for him and the Knicks’ franchise. There were no prohibitive issues except term of contract" (N.Y. POST, 6/5). Walsh on Friday stressed that he "couldn’t commit to two more years, that the best interests of the Knicks lie in the hands of a younger man." Walsh said, "I’m probably not the guy to go forward with this. This is the time to end the relationship. Basically, I had a good relationship with Jim" (N.Y. POST, 6/4).
LETTING THE RIGHT MAN SLIP AWAY: In N.Y., Harvey Araton wrote Walsh on Friday "took the same high road out of Madison Square Garden that he rode in on." Walsh was the "class act in Dolan's clown show" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4). SI.com's Sam Amick wrote Walsh "took the high road on his way out, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen him drive before" (SI.com, 6/3). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro wrote Walsh "deserved a chance to finish this job." The 70-year-old's health "was fine," and when it "came to roster building, few can match his brain" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 6/4). In N.Y., Mike Lupica: "The Knicks are worse off Saturday than they were Friday. That is the reality of what happens to them because Walsh walks away now from the job of running them" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/4). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Isola wrote, "You have to be blind, clueless or a media shill not to understand that Walsh was hired to serve as a consultant to Dolan and Thomas, the de facto general manager, all along. Dolan's promise of granting Walsh full autonomy from the start was a flat out lie. He said it to placate the commissioner and the media. Give Dolan credit for this -- he came clean last July that Walsh was a figurehead when he dispatched Thomas to Ohio in a last ditch effort to recruit LeBron James" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 6/3). WFAN-AM’s Mark Malusis said, “It’s a bad day for the Knicks. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to." Malusis: "You want to talk about integrity, you want to talk about a guy where you had confidence running the organization that got rid of all the dreck, and that is Donnie Walsh. Now you look at Madison Square Garden -- whoever decides to run it, you know what, you have a feeling that it’s going to be a guy that’s going to be a yes-man to Dolan” ("The Wheelhouse," SNY, 6/3).
DOUBTING THOMAS? Thomas said that he "doesn't want the job, but wouldn’t rule out returning to the organization." Thomas: "You never say never on anything. All my doors are open and you never burn bridges. What the future holds we’ll see." Walsh on Friday said, "I don’t think Isiah Thomas basically has anything to do with what I’m doing right now" (Bergen RECORD, 6/4). More Thomas: "I have no interest in being the president of the New York Knicks. I'm happy with FIU. I like the things I'm doing on the college scene. I like the players that we have that are coming in. And I also like working with the youth and working with the kids at this point in time." He added, "The toll that the (Knicks) job took on me, my wife and my kids, I don't want to go through that again" (N.Y. POST, 6/4). ESPN N.Y.'s Johnette Howard wrote the "idea that Thomas will always be a stalking horse haunting whoever holds his old job ... has just about cemented into legend in New York and around the NBA." It is "hard to see how any amount of denials will be enough to change that perception." Howard: "You would think such categorical denials, coupled with a determination on all sides to at least pretend to take the high road, would be enough to kill the stories illustrating how Thomas has been running a shadow government behind Walsh's back ever since Thomas left the Knicks. But dream on. This triangle arrangement atop the executive tree is just going to keep on triangulating" (ESPNNY.com, 6/4).
CAN ISIAH REALLY COME BACK? Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said Dolan “can’t be that stupid" to bring back Thomas. Paige: "He's the one that caused all of the problems that Donnie Walsh had to clean up. ... It's a situation where they finally become respectable again, and you want to bring Isiah in? That makes no sense.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw: "You see where this team has come from the jail it was in with Isiah and I will say it was in bad shape before Isiah got there. It just became worse while he was there” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 6/3). SI’s Chris Mannix said Dolan "would have to be out of his mind to bring (Thomas) back in some official capacity right now." Mannix: "I think they would burn down Madison Square Garden if they brought him back as a high ranking executive or general manager” (“The Wheelhouse,” SNY, 6/3).
WHO'S GOT NEXT? On Long Island, Alan Hahn cites sources as saying that there are "no preferred candidates to replace Walsh and that the process is not expected to be completed before his contract expires June 30" (NEWSDAY, 6/6). In N.Y., Frank Isola reports Grunwald, Warkentien and MSG Sports President Scott O'Neil are the "front-runners to run the basketball operation" as a three-person team. A source indicated that Grunwald's responsibilities would be to "handle the day-to-day functions on the basketball side along with Warkentien," and both would report directly to O'Neil. Under this arrangement, Knicks advisor Allan Houston "would continue to work in the front office, with the plan being for Dolan's all-time favorite Knick to eventually run the club at some point" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/6). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Lupica wrote Walsh "was the right guy for the Knicks, but was presented to Dolan" by NBA Commissioner David Stern, so "let's see how Dolan does with finding the right guy to replace Walsh." Lupica: "Let's see Dolan hire somebody and not think he knows more than the guy about basketball because of things Isiah Thomas has just told him on the phone. Dolan doesn't have to get out of the way completely, no sports owner does. But if Dolan is going to hire somebody still thinking Thomas is the real brains of the operation, then the Knicks really are doomed" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/5).
True North Sports & Entertainment's "Drive to 13,000" season-ticket campaign for Winnipeg's NHL franchise "lasted less than 72 hours as the last tickets were claimed within 17 minutes of Saturday's noon opening to the general public," according to Ed Tait of the WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. By shortly after 2:00pm CT, a "ticket waiting list had been capped at 8,000 people." The pre-sale set aside exclusively for AHL Manitoba Moose season-ticket and mini-pack holders and corporate sponsors "reached 7,158 by Friday afternoon with the remaining 5,842 commitments gobbled up quickly not long after the on-line window opened." Fewer than 1,000 tickets at the 15,015-seat MTS Centre will be "available on a per game basis to the general public as the luxury boxes take an additional 1,000 seats while the NHL requires a few hundred seats be set aside for players and their families as well as league executives" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 6/4). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said, "It was an extraordinarily impressive statement by the fans in Winnipeg that they are ready to embrace NHL hockey. I'm sure our Board of Governors will certainly take note" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 6/4). In Winnipeg, Gary Lawless noted at an average price of C$82, the Winnipeg team "will generate just north" of C$54M in ticket revenue this coming season. That is "in the top half of ticket revenue among NHL teams." Lawless: "The smallest building in the smallest market in the league will make more money off ticket sales than half the teams in the NHL" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek noted the "success of the campaign mirrors one that followed Calgary's entry to the NHL in the 1980-81 season" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 6/4).
SUPPLY & DEMAND: The WINNIPEG FREE PRESS' Tait noted thousands of fans were "shut out Saturday afternoon in their bid to land" season tickets. Complaints were "instantaneous as fans moaned about not being able to complete transactions in time before the 13,000 number was achieved." Because of the "tremendous demand," True North established the 8,000 person waiting list, with fans putting down a C$50 "non-refundable deposit" per seat. At the start of the team's second season, a C$100 "annual membership fee will be due in order to retain membership on the waiting list." All membership fees collected and accumulated annually will be "applied to the eventual ticket package as long as the membership is retained" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5). Also in Winnipeg, Jillian Austin noted "hundreds of want ads quickly appeared on websites" after all the season tickets were claimed. There were "several ads starting to appear selling tickets, at astronomical prices." One ad was selling four season tickets over five years for "[C]$150,000 no less" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5).
PROOF POSITIVE: In Winnipeg, Tom Brodbeck wrote, "Does anyone still think Winnipeg can't afford an NHL franchise?" The demand for season tickets "pretty much confirms that pound-for-pound, Winnipeg is one of the strongest hockey markets in the world" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5). Also in Winnipeg, Ted Wyman wrote, "This is a clear message to True North CEO Mark Chipman and business partner David Thomson that they are doing the right thing by bringing an NHL franchise back to a community that has hockey in its soul. ... This is a statement to hockey fans across Canada that we are ready to take back our game and that this should just be the tip of the iceberg" (WINNIPEGSUN.com, 6/4). In Calgary, George Johnson wrote under the header, "Winnipeggers Prove They Belong In The Big Leagues." Johnson: "It may not have size, stature or trappings of many of the American metropolises hockey has migrated to over the past 15 years in its insatiable quest to find U.S. TV money and exposure, but it does provide something else very basic: Passion for the game" (CALGARY HERALD, 6/5). Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke said, "There are challenges in the marketplace. I think there right now is a wave of Canadian patriotism and euphoria that's not realistic. That being said, I think the challenges in the market, in being the smallest market and having the smallest building, having the smallest corporate base, I think those are challenges that can be met in Winnipeg with this CBA." He added, "I'm not worried about the first five years. ... The key is you need stamina" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 6/5).
NOT MAKING THE TRIP NORTH: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cited sources as saying that Rick Dudley was informed by True North on Saturday that he "will not be retained as the Winnipeg team's GM." Dudley "signed a four-year extension in January with the Thrashers." Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger is "expected to be part of the Winnipeg front office" (ESPN.com, 6/4). The GLOBE & MAIL's David Shoalts reports coach Craig Ramsay, who has one year remaining on his contract, is "also expected to be fired." What "isn't clear is who will be on the hook for Dudley's and Ramsay's contracts." Reports have indicated that True North "worked out a deal with Atlanta Spirit" that would make the former Thrashers owner "responsible for paying Dudley and Ramsay if they were not retained." However, this was "not confirmed by True North" (GLOBE & MAIL, 6/6).
ON THE AIR: CJOB-AM Sports Dir Bob Irving, whose station has aired Moose games for the past 15 years, said the station is "going to pursue" the Winnipeg NHL franchise's radio broadcast rights. Sports Radio 1290 Program Dir Chris Brooke said that his station also will "likely bid for the rights." He "declined to say whom the station might choose to do play-by-play, should they score the rights." In Winnipeg, Paul Turenne noted the team's "local territory TV rights will also be up for grabs, although most of the TV networks have been tight-lipped about whether they intend to bid for them" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5).
WHITEOUT EFFECT: True North "registered the word 'whiteout' as a trademark with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office last month." The whiteout was "popularized by Winnipeg Jets fans in the 1980s who dressed in white to playoff games" (WINNIPEG SUN, 6/5). True North Dir of Communications & Hockey Operations Scott Brown said that Whiteout "will not be the new name of the Winnipeg NHL team." He added that the term was trademarked "only to protect future use of the phrase or term if and when it's needed" (WINNIPEGFREEPRESS.com, 6/6).
Tom Gores "used his acumen at spotting a good deal" to acquire the Pistons and Palace Sports & Entertainment for only $325M, "far below" what many expected, according to sources cited by Bill Shea in a cover story for CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS. A source with direct knowledge of the transaction confirmed the $325M price for the NBA team and the "umbrella management company," including the Palace of Auburn Hills. By comparison, a group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber purchased the Warriors last July for $450M. Shea notes "factors driving the Detroit sale include the distressed local economy, the team's poor performance, looming NBA labor trouble" and Karen Davidson's "stated desire to no longer be a team owner." A source indicated that Gores "paid for much of the transaction with his own money." There will be a "minority investment in the sale by one of the private equity funds controlled by Gores," the $2.75B Platinum Equity Capital Partners II (CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS, 6/6 issue).
EYES ARE ON JOE DUMARS: In Detroit, Drew Sharp notes today is the 11th anniversary of Joe Dumars joining the Pistons as President of Basketball Operations, and he "soon will hire his seventh head coach during that time." That is "beyond ridiculous, bordering on the dysfunctional." Sharp: "Dumars MUST get this hire right. But that also requires new owner Tom Gores not overreacting as easily as Bill Davidson occasionally did" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 6/6).
In L.A., Jill Painter reported former Dodgers 1B Steve Garvey has added ESPN's Orel Hershiser to a prospective ownership group "with the wish of purchasing the Dodgers if the team goes on sale," renaming it the Garvey-Hershiser Group. Hershiser said, “When he called and said he wanted me to be part of this group, I said, ‘Garv, I’d always be interested in helping and doing something like this that would be a lot of fun.’ We’re forming a group that’s investigating situations as they arise” (L.A. DAILY NEWS. 6/5). Garvey yesterday confirmed that he "has no formal agreement" with Ron Burkle, two months after Garvey said that the Penguins co-Owner was part of the prospective ownership group. Garvey said that he “believes his group could finance a bid even without Burkle,” but indicated that he “has talked with the billionaire and hopes to have him on board if and when the Dodgers go up for sale” (LATIMES.com, 6/5).
CAUSE FOR CONCERN? In Philadelphia, Matt Gelb noted the report that the Phillies are one of nine teams not compliant with MLB's debt-service rules is "another sign the team could be hamstrung to add significant payroll this season.” Still, Phillies officials said that they "do not believe the issue to be serious.” In addition, an MLB source indicated that the Phillies “are not in danger of a long-term debt problem.” Gelb noted “no long-term penalties are likely to be levied on the Phillies, but short-term flexibility could be hampered” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/4). Sources said that debt service "is not an indicator -- at least not by itself -- of economic difficulties.” Moag & Co. Chair & CEO John Moag said, “You can’t just take a one-year snapshot because it can vary from year to year.” Moag also noted that team owners “often fill in financial gaps themselves” (Baltimore SUN, 6/4).
WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING: The D’Backs entered the weekend ranked 18th out of 30 MLB clubs in home attendance, and after the team "briefly took over first place" in the NL West last week, “two of the next three games attracted fewer than 18,000 fans.” Before Friday's game against the Nationals at Chase Field, the D’Backs had an average attendance of 22,879 and “have filled only 47 percent of their seats this season.” Only five teams “have done worse with vacancy.” D'Backs manager Kirk Gibson said, "This team is the reason they're not here, along with the economy and other factors. Now if we sustain what we've been doing, we can see some people come out. We have to earn that. I have no problem with that” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 6/3).
SAVING UP: Padres Exec VP & GM Jed Hoyer on Friday said that the team “has budgeted accordingly" for today's MLB Draft, "in which the team has five of the top 58 picks.” Hoyer “declined to specify how much he can award in signing bonuses," but said that a “comparison with the Boston Red Sox -- who have averaged $9.43 million in bonuses the last three drafts -- was fair.” In California, Dan Hayes noted the Padres “spent only $4.3 million in signing bonuses last season.” Before Hoyer's arrival in October '09, the team “spent a franchise-record $9.1 million in signing bonuses” that year (NCTIMES.com, 6/3).
A PIRATES' LIFE: ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian noted there is "something going on in Pittsburgh right now." The Pirates hosted the Phillies this weekend, and there was a "buzz in that ballpark on Friday night." Kurkjian: "Last night they sold-out PNC Park ... and they’ve really got something going here. I think it’s because Clint Hurdle has come in and given them a face and given them a voice” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 6/5).
In Boston, Jason Woods reported the Red Sox “will produce an online video for the ‘It Gets Better Project,’ an antibullying campaign aimed at helping gay youth.” Friday’s announcement came “in response to a petition started by a 12-year-old New Hampshire boy who garnered nearly 10,000 signatures in a matter of days.” The team “didn’t specify which players would participate, or what the video would say.” The Red Sox “become the third baseball team to pledge support for the project in less than a week,” joining the Giants and Cubs (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/5).
MAKING THEIR MOVE: In N.Y., Stefan Bondy writes while Knicks Owner James Dolan is "confusing and frustrating his team’s supporters," the Nets are "gearing up for a run at the city’s basketball fan base." With the Knicks “raising their ticket prices about 50% for next season,” the Nets are “promoting themselves as the cheaper alternative just five miles away.” The team on its website states, "Our No. 1 priority in pricing tickets (for Brooklyn) was to ensure Nets games are accessible to everyone" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/6).
SPONSOR EXPOSURE: NHL Panthers President & COO Michael Yormark on Twitter said the team’s “sponsor revenue is in the top 3rd of the NHL.” In Miami, George Richards wrote with “all the advertising plastered on every nook and cranny” of BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers “should be in the top three of the league and not just the top third.” Meanwhile, Yormark noted the Panthers “were not in the top ten teams in the NHL in comp tickets this season” (MIAMIHERALD.com, 6/4).
ON THE PROWL: The Bobcats yesterday ran a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer touting ’11-12 season tickets starting at $6.25 per game. The ad also featured a promotion to buy two season tickets and get two free (THE DAILY).