KNICKS: Donnie Walsh's Departure Leaves Front Office Future Uncertain

 @ibtimes
on June 06 2011 3:15 PM

Having spent three years cleaning up the mess Isiah Thomas made in New York, Knicks team president Donnie Walsh has called it quits and will step down at the end of June.

Walsh, 70, has had some recent health issues, so his departure isn't too surprising, and he seems to have completed the job that he was asked to do.

The possibility remains that the well-respected Walsh will remain with the Knicks as a consultant to mentor the new president, but his presence within the organization has been immeasurable.

The departure of Walsh leaves the Knicks with a gaping hole in the front office. Throughout his three-year tenure, Walsh restored much-needed credibility to an organization reeling from the effects of years of dreadful mismanagement under Scott Layden and Thomas.

An NBA Hall-of-Famer who led the Bad Boy Pistons to consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990, Thomas was simply an ineffective manager and head coach. Chants of Fire Isiah were sometimes deafening at Masidson Square Garden.

His time with the Knicks was highlighted by such questionable decisions as the expensive multi-year signings of Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, who spent most of their time either injured or relegated to the end of the bench. At the end of the 2005-06 season the Knicks had the league's highest payroll and second-worst record.

During the 2007-08 season, Dolan finally got the message from the relentless New York media, brought Walsh on to repace Thomas as team president.

Following the season, and with the Knicks tying a team record 59 losses, Walsh fired Thomas as head coach and replaced him with exciting, offensive-minded head coach Mike D'Antoni.

For Walsh, it was the first of many notable moves that received praise.

By the 2010 off-season, Walsh had cleared enough cap space to sign free-agent big man Amare Stoudemire, which gave the Knicks a legitimate All-Star and a face to build the team around.

He also drafted unheralded Landry Fields in the second round, and signed effective point guard Raymond Felton. Both moves proved that the Knicks were headed in the right direction.

The 2010-11 season got off to a solid start as the blue-collar Knicks turned out some gritty performances. Just before the trade deadline, Walsh was able to swing a deal to bring Carmelo Anthony, another All-Star and one of the NBA's most potent scorers, to play alongside Stoudemire.

Finishing the season above .500 for the first time in 10 seasons, the Knicks were finally back in the playoffs.

Despite a first round exit to the veteran Boston Celtics, the Knicks' future continues to look strong with a strong core in Anthony, Stoudemire, Fields, Chauncey Billups, and some solid role players like Toney Douglas and Ronny Turiaf.

There is still plenty of work to do, and there are already questions about the job security of D'Antoni.

But for once the Knicks are relatively drama free. Much of the credit should go to the common sense of Walsh, who turned things around for an organization that has looked hapless for far too long.

Whoever replaces Walsh will have a large pair of shoes to fill.

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