Though I often couldn’t care less about the typical drama that ensues with all of New York City professional sport’s teams, I am completely puzzled by the Knicks’ latest decision to not renew Donnie Walsh’s expiring contract or at least offer him his option year.
But before I get into analyzing James Dolan’s insanity or his down-right lack of intelligence, I want to take a look at a little Knicks history from this past decade:
After Isaiah Thomas took over as General Manager in 2003, the Knicks made the playoffs once in the next 7 years. In addition, during his tenure as either GM or GM/coach, Isaiah posted 8 straight consecutive losing seasons.
Isaiah’s lone decent decision apart from drafting Wilson Chandler was hiring Larry Brown to coach in 2005. However, Thomas refused to deal with Brown’s traditional horrible first season that he has with every team he coaches and instead fired him immediately after the team posted only 23 wins.
Ironically, that 2005-2006 Knicks team not only had Larry Brown as head coach but also had a whopping payroll of 130 million dollars. 130 million? To put that in perspective, compare that figure to this year’s Los Angeles Lakers team, which had a payroll of 91 million, the highest in the league for 2011.
To make matters worse, Brown’s contract was worth 50 million dollars over 5 years. Thomas had invested 50 million to have an excellent coach help his team rebuild, but then still decided to move in an another direction after one season. The cost of his flip-flopping? 18.5 million dollars to buy out Brown’s contract. In summation, Thomas and Dolan had shelled out 28.5 million dollars to Larry Brown to coach one 23-win season in New York.
Furthermore, In January 2006, former college star Anucha Brown Sanders filed a sexual harassment suit against Thomas and the Knicks. Thomas reportedly harassed Sanders from the moment he hired her in 2003. Sanders had begun complaining to Madison Square Garden officials in 2005 and was subsequently fired quickly thereafter. The suit was settled for 11.5 million dollars and brought obvious further shame and scandal to Thomas and the Knicks.
Donnie Walsh vs. James Dolan + Isaiah Thomas
After Walsh was hired as President of Basketball Operations in 2008, Thomas was quickly fired and the payroll was reduced to 27 million dollars in two years. During the past year, Walsh finally put forth the money on a worthy free agent, Amar’e Stoudemire.
But even with all of Walsh’s shrewd decisions, Dolan still wouldn’t completely trust Walsh’s judgment. The New York Daily News reported in February of this year that Dolan chose to negotiate with the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony without involving Walsh in any of the decisions. Basically, Walsh, who had actually saved the Knicks millions of dollars while still giving them room to sign or trade for all-stars, was being left out of the loop in the biggest decision of the year.
But why was Dolan so adamant on selling on all of the Knicks future pieces for Carmelo Anthony? Because Isaiah Thomas was still in Dolan’s ear. Even as a college basketball coach in Florida, Thomas still commands the respect of the owner of the New York Knicks. Thomas firmly believed that Anthony was worth any cost.
Of course, quietly thereafter, the Nets traded for all-star PG Deron Williams by giving up significantly less talent. Perhaps Walsh wanted to negotiate with the Jazz for Williams to at least drive Carmelo’s trade value down slightly. Dolan didn’t want to hear any of it. Dolan’s unilateral decision all but ensured that Walsh’s contract would not be renewed, not that Walsh would want to stay in New York after being publically humiliated anyway.
So the Knicks, who just a few months ago looked like they would finally escape from the handcuffs that Isaiah had tightened, will now once again move forward with their typical awful leadership. Sure they have three excellent all-star veterans in Billups, Anthony, and Stoudemire, but they have no real authority to build around these players or make the necessary tough coaching-change decision that lies ahead.
Walsh had electrified MSG with only a 42 win season. He brought in talent, legitimacy, and accountability, ideals that the Knicks have lacked in the last decade. Now with the Dolan-Thomas relationship still in the picture and the Nets moving to Brooklyn, I firmly believe that the Knicks fan base will once again shrink. However, this change might actually be permanent. The Nets are young and exciting and have the cap space and leadership to excel for years.