Pat Riley will probably win it. I can see that. But Donnie Walsh of the Knicks deserves to be NBA Executive of the Year.
In three seasons Walsh has taken a team drowning in big contracts for bad players and has turned them into something respectable. The Knicks are not contenders, but they are pretty good and very entertaining. No team has come farther in the last few years to get where they are than New York.
And yet, there are worries within Madison Square Garden that Walsh’s job may not be safe. His contract is up at the end of this season and owner James Dolan has until April 1 to pick up his contract for next season.
Nobody knows if Dolan will do that, writes Howard Beck at the New York Times. Which has plenty of people nervous because if not Walsh… he wouldn’t really bring back Isiah Thomas, would he? Is Dolan wearing Bad Idea Jeans? Bringing back Thomas the New Coke of basketball decisions. That can’t really happen, can it?
The problem is Dolan is so unpredictable and so secretive nobody can rule it out.
In that light, the move by Walsh this week to hire Mark Warkentien — the former Nuggets GM — makes even more sense (it’s not just the Carmelo Anthony connections). With Warkentien and current second-in-command Allan Houston in house, if Walsh is pushed out the door there would be two reasonable replacement options already in the Knicks front office. Meaning one would not have to look for Florida college coaches to be your GM.
Know that Walsh wants to stick around.
“I never have; I don’t think about that,” Walsh said, but he confirmed that he wanted to continue. “If I’m the right guy, probably. But I’m not in charge of that, so I don’t worry about it. I feel good at this point, about how this has gone for the Knicks.”
To realize how good a job Walsh has done, you have to look back at the 23-win Knicks of 2008, the last season of Thomas’ reign. That team had Stephon Marbury playing in 30 games and shooting 41 percent for his $19 million. They had Zach Randolph at $13.3 million, Eddie Curry at $8.9 million (at the start of a contract the Knicks still can’t unload) and Quentin Richardson was making $8.1 million. The Knicks had a payroll of more than $95 million, and with the luxury tax they paid out much more to miss the playoffs entirely. And that’s just the on-the-court issues, the team found ways to embarrass the franchise off the court, too.
Walsh came in and changed everything. Already have 25 wins and seem destined for a playoff spot. He brought in a new face for the franchise in Amar’e Stoudemire. There is an energy and excitement in the Garden and around the Knicks that has been missing for a decade.
If the Knicks don’t pick up Walsh’s contract, it’s a sign that ultimately nothing has changed in New York. And that the city’s hoops fans are destined for another decade of disappointment.