|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
Only Jim Dolan can deliver driving rain on a cloudless day. Only the owner of the New York Knicks can take his high-priced product, barely credible at last, and twist it back into something dysfunctional enough to require a surgeon general's warning.
Donnie Walsh is going, going, gone, pushed through the Garden door by a boss who might as well have told him, "Don't let the empty trophy case hit you on the way out."
At 70, Walsh said he wanted to return for at least one more season, his fourth, then see how he felt after that. Of course, if Dolan had picked up the $5 million option on Walsh's contract by the April 30 deadline, Friday's announcement could've been a deferred April Fools' joke.
But the joke was on Knicks fans, for the sake of old times.
"A mutual walking away" was how Walsh described it on a conference call with reporters.
|Donnie Walsh and Jim Dolan: One Garden partnership that should've remained intact.|
Yeah, right. The only thing mutual here is the understanding that Dolan leads the league in absurd moves.
No, Walsh isn't the greatest basketball executive of all time. He's not Red Auerbach or Jerry West or even Pat Riley, and the record shows he's won the same amount of championship rings as LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki combined.
But Walsh is a competent judge of talent and a well-respected manager of the salary cap. He helped make the Knicks matter again, even if Dolan believed that people not named Donnie Walsh -- Jim Dolan being one of them -- deserved much of the credit for landing Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Walsh wasn't rewarded Friday with the one-year extension he desired or the guarantee of personnel autonomy he sought and, according to one source, didn't get from Dolan. Instead Walsh was handed his walking papers and a statement from Dolan, thanking him for making a "tremendous impact" on the franchise and for his "leadership, hard work and many contributions to the revitalization of the team."
Only in Dolan's bizarro alternate universe does the choice to oust Walsh for being such a dignified steward of the Knicks make any sense at all.
"I'm not bailing," Walsh said.
He's falling after being pushed.
"It just became apparent to me that I'm probably not the guy to go forward with this," Walsh said, "and this is the right time to end the relationship."
Walsh is remaining as a consultant for one year, and he said he will have a role in picking his successor, another indication that Isiah Thomas has no shot at filling his old seat.
Dolan will likely look past the interim guy, Glen Grunwald, and take a shot with Mark Warkentien or the kind of big-name impact hire he made in Anthony. But Dolan is just as likely to keep the all-out recruiting in check until he knows if there's going to a lockout, and how long one might last.
Walsh made it clear that Dolan didn't want to pay him $5 million next season in the event next season doesn't come. "That would be a windfall to me," Walsh said, "and it wouldn't be fair to the franchise."
Wouldn't be fair to the franchise? Dolan has wasted tens of millions of dollars on useless, ill-conditioned ballplayers, and he was worried about paying the franchise gatekeeper a lousy 5 million to preside over a 50-game season?
It's simple: Dolan didn't want Walsh running the Knicks anymore, and he came up with a plan -- insisting on an unnecessary multiyear commitment -- to force Walsh to retreat to the vague netherworld in which consultants fade to black.
"It's definitely a sad day for the Knicks because Donnie was a great hire," said Dave Checketts, the former Garden president forced out by Dolan 10 years back. "But [Dolan] started really getting more involved with the Knicks around 1999, when George Steinbrenner and other people suggested he should get more involved, and I think this is really what he wants to do.
"Donnie was so calm in difficult circumstances there, and he did a lot of cleaning up in three years. Now it's going to be tough for the next guy because I think the Miami Heat might be better than the Chicago Bulls teams we couldn't beat in the '90s."
Fred Wilpon has a better chance of owning the Mets in three years Jim Dolan has of finding the right GM, or of letting that right GM actually do his job. Dolan had the right GM in Walsh, the candidate David Stern wanted in there all along, and look at how that played out.
Right now, if Stern were asked to assess the Knicks' decision to run Walsh out of his hometown, the commissioner would surely dust off his go-to response: "It demonstrates that they're not a model of intelligent management."
Walsh said he was strong enough to continue through next year, despite health issues and surgeries that left him in a wheelchair, and that should've been good enough for his boss. It wasn't.
Dolan believed Thomas had as much to do with acquiring Stoudemire and Anthony as Walsh did, and it didn't matter whether anyone else believed it. Dolan had Walsh publicly thank Thomas at Stoudemire's introductory news conference for a reason. Dolan sent Thomas on a hopeless, last-ditch recruiting mission in the final hours of LeBron James' free agency for a reason.
The owner has long suspected that Thomas' ties to figures in and around the recruiting game, including Stoudemire's AAU coach and Anthony's reps at Creative Artists Agency, were more valuable than Walsh's old-school connections. Again, it doesn't matter if they were -- just that Dolan believed they were.
And that's why Walsh is no longer presiding over the Knicks. Dolan was underwhelmed by him, as hilarious as that sounds, and didn't want to pay $5 million for an underwhelming executive in what could be an underwhelming lockout-shortened season.
So Jim Dolan chose Door No. 2 and put the franchise back in Jim Dolan's hands. Good luck, Knicks fans. You'll need it.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."