SBD/June 6, 2011/Franchises

Donnie Walsh Steps Down From Knicks Without Autonomy In Basketball Ops

Walsh is expected to help Knicks identify his permanent successor
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).
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