NEW YORK -- The ink was barely dry on the news release announcing that Donnie Walsh was stepping down as president and general manager of the New York Knicks, and the same old knee-jerk reaction kicked in:
This better not mean Isiah Thomas will be coming back to the Knicks. Anybody but Isiah Thomas.
Last year, the New York Daily News reduced the complicated emotions that Thomas still elicits here to haiku: The paper's back-page headline screamed "NO!" the last time rumors swirled that James Dolan was about to bring Thomas back. Because Thomas is currently a college coach, the NBA barred him from even being a Knicks consultant, the same job description the Knicks say Walsh will be moving into for the 2011-12 season.
But the news that Glen Grunwald will slide into a role as interim general manager suggests there's another shoe waiting to drop.
And that's where Thomas, head coach at Florida International, comes in.
The combination of Dolan's fascination with Thomas, the owner's contrarian streak and Thomas' proven ability to have a Rasputin-like talent for survival are enough to make anything possible. Even a Thomas comeback.
Dolan made a point of saying Thomas had nothing, zero, zilch to do with the late-season trade that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York. But if you believe the rumors, not the Knicks' official state-controlled media version, Walsh didn't have all that much to do with it either. He stayed in Indiana while Dolan flew out West to broker the deal himself, and give up a lot more talent that Walsh might've been inclined to cough up.
The nutshell version of Walsh's time here is this simple: He was everything as an executive that Thomas was not. There was a coherent plan, a structure, and credibility that Walsh exuded. He not only got the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, he also got the them out of salary cap jail, and presided over Amare Stoudemire's arrival and some mixed success in the draft. (Passing on Brandon Jennings? Bad. Finding Landry Fields in the second round? Good.)
Now that he's gone, we'll see if Dolan really has quit on Thomas.
Dolan has always overinflated what a shrewd judge of NBA talent Thomas was. But Dolan has always had a self-serving take on reality. Anyone who starts parroting the Dolan argument that Thomas was the sharp-eyed exec who drafted the likes of Trevor Ariza, Tracy McGrady or Damon Stoudamire way back when has to also admit -- if they have any conscience -- that Thomas was the same guy who gave up a king's ransom for Eddy Curry and brought Jerome James and too many other well-paid stiffs to mention to the Knicks. Thomas had way more misses than hits.
Thomas also tried to take some credit -- and Dolan gave it to him -- for Stoudemire signing here rather than acknowledging it might've happened because the Knicks were willing to give Stoudemire a maximum contract, something the Suns organization he left wasn't willing to do. Thomas also got Dolan to name him a personal envoy to go see LeBron James before The Decision. But Thomas couldn't get in the room with James -- just one of James' sidekicks. So, please no revisionist history there, either. Walsh didn't get LeBron to come here, but Thomas didn't either. Probably no one could have. James had other plans, much as it stings our New York parochial pride to admit not everyone is dying to live or work here.
The Knicks' news release Friday said the parting between Walsh and Dolan was mutually agreed upon and amicable.
But we'll see if everyone agrees as time rolls on and more folks check in. We'll see if Walsh's health issues played a role, too.
For now, it's the next move the Knicks make that will say a lot. It could tell us everything. If Thomas' name floats up, we'll know why Walsh left. If someone like Chris Mullin -- whom Walsh wanted to hire again and again, only to be told no -- comes in as the Knicks' permanent GM, the assertion that the 70-year-old Walsh's exit was amicable looks a whole lot more believable.
If Dolan is at all tempted to bring back Thomas, it needn't be a long deliberation. Every time he has the impulse to forget how bad things were on Thomas' watch, he should think of that back page headline.
Then just say no.
No way. No how. No thanks.