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Schmeelk: Donnie Walsh A Warning, Not A Death Knell, For Knicks

Knicks president Donnie Walsh (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Knicks president Donnie Walsh (credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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By John Schmeelk
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There’s no way to spin Donnie Walsh’s departure as Knicks president as anything but negative.

Everyone knows what the Knicks had in Donnie Walsh, a wise basketball executive that exercised great patience and judgment in even the most tense situations. He would develop a reasonable plan, stick to it and execute, no matter how painful.

The Knicks are where they are because of Walsh: two stars, future cap flexibility, and great hope for the future.

I won’t waste too much time trying to analyze why he’s been excused, but here’s how I see it. The pay cut was likely a peripheral issue, one that didn’t help but wasn’t a deal breaker. I have a hard time believing the contract length was an issue that made Walsh walk away. If Donnie knew he only wanted to commit to one more year and James Dolan wanted more, this soap opera wouldn’t have played out as long as it did. It served as a good fall-back position so both sides could save face, allowing Walsh to stay on as a consultant.

The most likely reason Walsh decided he no longer wanted the job is that it hadn’t been, and wouldn’t be, completely his.

Dolan’s Madison Square Garden, at least from the outside looking in, appears dysfunctional. Too many people are involved in making decisions, including many that have no business being involved. The fact that Scott O’Neil, a glorified salesman, is involved in basketball decisions is a joke. A guy like that with too much power is why Rod Thorn left New Jersey. Walsh didn’t like the system and became convinced whatever deal he came to wouldn’t fix it to his satisfaction. That’s why he is no longer Knicks general manager.

Now, this isn’t the irreparable disaster that some people are making it out to be.

Isiah Thomas is not coming back in an official capacity as Knicks president or general manager. As much as Dolan seems to not care what anybody thinks, even he would not want the fan, media and basketball firestorm that would ensue. He could live with it if it was just the media, but the fan base would revolt and he would get a lot of grief from David Stern and the rest of the league as well.

It could not be more important for the Knicks to bring in the right person to be their new GM. While Walsh accomplished the big things (clearing cap space and getting two stars), though the tougher and more nuanced work remains.

The Knicks have few assets or opportunities to improve the team in the next two seasons. They have Chauncey Billups and his expiring contract that can be used in a trade or left to run out to create cap space in the summer. The Knicks’ first round pick this year must be a good one, either as a player in New York or as an asset in a future trade. They have no second round choices this year (though they can buy some), and have no first round pick in 2012. Depending on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team may or may not have access to a mid-level exception or bi-annual exception to bring in a free agent. These are the only three ways the Knicks can seriously improve their roster and they can’t miss on any of them if they want to compete with the Heat.

It should be comforting to Knicks fans that as a consultant, Donnie Walsh will have a role in choosing his successor. Fans should universally get behind one man: Kevin Pritchard.

He built a winner in Portland as GM and has shown the ability to evaluate high end talent (trading Tyrus Thomas for LaMarcus Aldridge and Randy Foye for Brandon Roy on draft night) and finding steals at the bottom of the draft (Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez). He also pulled off a number of trades that not only netted superior talent but also kept the Blazers cap situation in check. Obviously, drafting injury prone Greg Oden is a black mark on his record, but that was a mistake most others in the business would have made as well.

As much as hiring Alan Houston would sound nice, it would signal a “puppet-master” type situation where others in the organization would be wielding too much power. Phil Jackson, at this time, is unrealistic. Jeff Bower’s record isn’t nearly as impressive as Pritchard’s. Mark Warkentien is capable, but it would signal even more influence from Creative Arts Agency, a dangerous precedent. Promoting Glen Grunwald would be scary since he was Isiah’s man.

The Knicks stand in a position where they can stay a 48-53 win team that would make them a four or five seed most seasons, or improve to be a true competitor of the Heat and Bulls. The next team president and GM will impact the future more than anyone else. The Knicks need to get this right, or they’ll need to get used to getting knocked out of the second round of the playoffs.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

- A couple quickies on the finals. The Mavericks’ role players missed way too many open looks, especially Jason Kidd and JJ Barea. Mario Chalmers made his and that turned out to be the difference in the game… Miami still played poorly in the last two minutes, with too many hero shots and one on one play, but Dwyane Wade made a couple of them…Dallas is not out of the series but now they have to win the next two games at home… Dwyane Wade was the best player on the floor and it wasn’t even close… if Dallas shoots better, they can still win this series.

For continuing coverage of the NBA Finals and New York Knicks at: http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk