GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- A dead rodent, either a mouse or a mole, was lying belly-up on the pavement 10 feet away from the front door of the New York Knicks' practice facility on Saturday afternoon.
Meanwhile, inside, there were only the faintest signs of life from a team sitting one loss away from postseason elimination.
And inevitably, talk turned to the future -- not only what the Knicks need to do to build a better team, but who would be doing the building.
Team president Donnie Walsh's contract expires June 30, and he was coy in discussing his long-term prospects with the organization -- though he did disclose that reports of an April 30 deadline for the Knicks to pick up a one-year option on his contract were not necessarily entirely accurate.
"There are other answers to what you guys have made a big deal out of, but I'm not going to go into that. It's my own personal, private business," Walsh said.
Asked directly if he expects to be the team president on opening night of the 2011-12 season, Walsh said: "I haven't got any crystal balls, so I don't know, but I wouldn't make a big deal out of that. I don't know how you can extrapolate. There are a lot of factors involved, some mine, some the franchise's, and whatever comes out of it comes out of it. But it's not something I'm thinking about right now at all. I'm thinking about tomorrow, and after tomorrow I'll be thinking about the draft and free agency and trades, or whatever."
Walsh has been insistent throughout the season that he wants to work through Year Four of the four-year plan he laid out when he took the job in the spring of 2008. He also has been supportive of Mike D'Antoni in saying the coach deserves to have a stable roster for an entire season -- something he hasn't had in his first three seasons -- before he can be fairly judged.
But the driving force behind all things concerning the Knicks is owner James Dolan, who hasn't answered a question from the media since March 2007, and has shown no inclination that he is ready for some robust back-and-forth.
That has lent an added level of mystery to the future of the Knicks, who have two stars -- Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire -- signed through the 2014-15 season, along with a collection of supporting pieces whose long-term prospects are unclear.
Walsh singled out Shawne Williams for praise, saying he brings a toughness to the court that every good team needs to have. But he was evasive on the question of whether the Knicks will exercise the team option to bring back Chauncey Billups for another season at a $14 million salary, saying only that Billups' late-season injuries (deep thigh bruise, strained knee) will not impact his decision because none of those injuries was indicative of a chronic medical condition.
"I've seen enough of our players to know who's important to our franchise and who's not," Walsh said. "Let me just say this: Before we got into the playoffs I knew we needed other elements. So I've been thinking about how are we going to be able to do this and that, and that's complicated because there's going to be a new collective bargaining agreement. But you're going to be able to do something, and that's what I'm thinking."
The Knicks will pick 17th in the draft and then will go into this summer of labor uncertainty with Stoudemire, Anthony, Landry Fields, Renaldo Balkman, Toney Douglas, Ronny Turiaf, Bill Walker (team option) and Andy Rautins under contract, and perhaps Billups, too.
Size is the Knicks' biggest need, and shooting is arguably second on their offseason wish list. They have been getting some of that shooting from Douglas, but his inability to get other players involved on offense when he runs the point is problematic, and it will be paramount to see whether Douglas can develop that part of his game between now and next spring, when the Knicks expect to be heading into the summer of '12 free agency market with enough salary cap space to acquire a third star (Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul could all become available).
So as painful as these three losses have been to fans of the Knicks and to the Knicks themselves, they are still part of a building process and a learning process that a retooled team needs to experience.
"No matter what happens here, it will help us to go through that kind of an experience with a team like Boston because it shows you what you've got to be like," Walsh said. "You've got to be tied together in a very close way, and they are. And that's why they have a successful team. Teams that have been through big moments like they have, that's how you learn, that's how you get there.
"We got our ass beat last night, which does happen from time to time," Walsh said. "We're in a tough position because we're missing the two guys. Amare showed great heart by playing, but you could see there was difficulty for him. I think we need to try to do the best we can tomorrow and see if we can bring it back to Boston, but our future is going to be pretty good, and that's the only thing I can say right now, and I'm not using that as an excuse or anything else. I think it was good for us to get in the playoffs, we see what we need to have and what we don't have, and we have to get to work to make sure we have it."