Donnie Walsh, the consummate professional who never speaks ill of ownership in public, said all the right things in his phone conference call Friday about him leaving as president of the Knicks. Well, the right things if you’re Knicks owner James Dolan. Nobody bought a word of it, but Walsh went through the motions, as you would expect.
But there was a vibe off his call that left many thinking changes were coming. And Mike D’Antoni as coach may well be one of them.
Walsh never said that. He said he gets along well with owner James Dolan. He said it wasn’t a disagreement about his autonomy to make trades and not have Dolan step on his toes (which is the opposite of what every off the record source will tell you). Walsh said at age 70 he couldn’t make a multi-year commitment to do this job with the energy needed, so he decided to step away. He tried to say he wasn’t pushed. Nobody believes him. Mike Kurylo — one of the great OG NBA bloggers — of Knickerblogger tweeted the quotes:
“[Autonomy] had nothing to do with it. I don’t understand why people make a big deal about an owner getting involved with negotiations.”
Walsh said Isiah Thomas was not involved as far as he knew. If you believe this, I have some land in Florida I’d like to sell you.
Kurylo and others noted that Walsh seemed to feel for the situation D’Antoni would be left with.
“I love working with Mike [D’Antoni] as a coach.”
“Mike & I like each other… we knew the 1st 2 years would be difficult…. I put him in a position where he didn’t have a chance to win.”
“I know [D’Antoni] can take this team to the next level.”
D’Antoni was given an impossible task his first two seasons with the Knicks, the roster sucked and needed to get worse to undo all the bad contracts Thomas left them with. Last season he had the team playing well before the Carmelo Anthony trade, afterwards it was hit and miss. As you expect with a team that got thrown together midseason with no good role players.
D’Antoni is in the middle of a clearly divided Knicks upper management. Some love his entertaining, fast paced style of play and think it will work with the right players. Others think he doesn’t make defense enough of a priority and that they can never win with him as coach.
Walsh was clearly a D’Antoni backer, but the new GM… who knows? If Dolan things — or can be convinced by friends and associates (*cough* Isiah Thomas *cough*) — that D’Antoni has to go, he will be gone maybe by next season.
Hazarding a guess as to what is next is a foolish exercise. But that leaves D’Antoni standing in a place that is not as solid as it was 24 hours ago.