Let’s cut to the chase: Don’t be mad at James Dolan for cutting ties with Donnie Walsh; be mad at him for dragging this on for too long and not giving the new President/GM more time to gameplan for the offseason.
Anyone who follows/argues with me on Twitter knows that I am an ardent Walsh/D’Antoni supporter. Both men were put in impossible positions due to the past incompetence of Scott Layden, Isiah Thomas, and James Dolan. It might not be “fair” to part ways with Walsh (and possibly D’Antoni) just as things are starting to turn, fair has nothing to do with it. Life isn’t fair.
Walsh and D’Antoni both accomplished what they were brought in here to do: Walsh got under the cap and acquired two All Stars to build around and D’Antoni played an exciting brand of basketball that was fun to watch even if the team lost far more than it one. More importantly, D’Antoni, whose system inflates players numbers the way Coors Field inflates Dante Bichette’s home run totals, pumped up the value of some young players who would be included in a trade that netted Carmelo Anthony. (For those who scoff at my characterization of Gallo, Chandler, and Felton, think of how many scoffed at the notion that the Knicks possessed the assets to acquire Melo. Also recall how anyone could have signed Felton before the Knicks signed him to a very team friendly deal.) Finally, the Walsh/D’Antoni duo brought playoff basketball back to The World’s Most Famous Arena.
While the above is all well and good, Jimmy Dolan had to take a hard look at the Knicks management situation and answer a simple question: “Are Walsh/D’Antoni the guys to lead this franchise going forward?” Judging from the reaction on Twitter and in the media, many people believe the answer to this question should have been ‘Yes.” Ironically, I noticed that many of my Twitter followers bemoaning the fall of Walsh were calling for D’Antoni’s head and a more defensive minded coach following the Melo trade. Well, I hate to break it to you, folks, the same way a vote for McCain would have been a vote for Palin, a vote for Walsh is a vote for D’Antoni.
As you can tell by now, despite being an advocate for team Walsh/D’Antoni, I don’t believe it is outrageous to question whether they were the right men for the job of leading this team going forward. The Knicks window to win a title starts next year and will likely remain open for 5-7 years (or however long Melo/Amar’e perform at an All Star level.) Thus, it isn’t unreasonable for Dolan to want a President/GM who will sign a multi-year deal and guide the team for the duration of Melo and Amar’e's primes. There is also the issue of Walsh’s health. Even though Donnie claims he is good-to-go, what else would you expect him to say? Walsh has spent a decent amount of time on the operating table and in a wheelchair during his Knicks tenure. Walsh’s health and his ability to keep up with the grind of being team President/GM is a legitimate concern going forward.
As for D’Antoni, in case you haven’t been watching the NBA playoffs, the teams that went deep into the playoffs complemented star players with strong defensive role players and defensive minded head coaches (an oversimplifcation, for sure, but you get the gist) and the 2-time defending champs hired Mike Brown, a noted defensive whiz, to take over for a coaching legend. Having seen the success these teams are having, it’s not ridiculous to want to make a move towards a more defensive minded coach, which is a move a lot of Knicks fans would welcome. Finally, there are some impressive front office candidates out there who would be good long-term choices to lead the Knicks, with Mark Warkentien and Allan Houston already in-house as possibilities, not to mention a solid list of coaching candidates to choose from. I apologize if I am jumping the gun a bit on D’Antoni being replaced, but you would have to imagine a new President/GM would want to bring in his own guy.
However, the caveat to all of this is if Dolan simply hires Warkentien or Houston and D’Antoni remains head coach. If this happens, it’s unlikely that much would change from an organizational philosophy standpoint and we’re all probably overreacting to this news. Both men are already with the organization and would probably run the team similar to Walsh, with a few wrinkles of their own thrown in for good measure.
All that being said, I am still highly annoyed with Dolan. My gripe is a simple one: Why did this take so long? The Knicks were eliminated from the playoffs April 25th and the deadline to extend Walsh’s contract was April 30. You mean to tell me it took Dolan over a month to reach this decision? Once Dolan passed on extending Walsh he should have parted ways with Donnie and hired a new President/GM. Instead, a month has been wasted and now more time will be wasted finding a new President/GM. As I noted above, a new President/GM will likely want to bring in his own coach, which is a process that would also take some time to work itself out. And, of course, a new coach means a new system, which means a change in philosophy as to the type of players to target in the offseason and beyond. Even if the Knicks name Donnie’s replacement within the next 48 hours, this past month has been an enormous waste of time. As has been the case all too often with Dolan, the process has been terrible.