The Knicks just introduced Donnie Walsh as the new President of Basketball Operations, reporting directly to MSG Chairman, James Dolan.
I’ll throw out some initial thoughts about the presser in bullet style.
* James Dolan did a brief introduction. In it he sounded the right notes. Of course we’ve heard this before, but what left me hopeful were two things: 1) Dolan was on only long enough to introduce Walsh and step aside, and 2) he emphasized Walsh’s autonomy over all things basketball. I was pleased to see that Dolan relented on MSG’s draconian media relations policy, and was public about doing so. Perhaps these are mere words, apropos of nothing. Perhaps, but in a press conference all you have are words. It’s a low hurdle, but it’s not like he hasn’t failed to clear it in the past.
* Whither Isiah?. Walsh, to his credit, didn’t take the bait and denounce Isiah or signal his plans for Isiah’s future. He did go so far as to say that he felt Isiah “has the skills to help this franchise,” and reiterated his respect for Zeke’s “basketball mind” though he offered no more detail than that. When pressed, he basically said that firing Thomas in Indiana was Larry Bird’s decision, but that he ultimately signed off on it–basically what he’s been saying all along. Walsh demonstrating his passing grade in Professional Public Behavior 101 by refraining from doing to Isiah Thomas what he did to Don Chaney. Walsh stated and restated “twenty times in eight different languages” (to use his words) that he’d make no decisions about Isiah’s future without having met with him to discuss the season and the direction of the franchise. When asked in so many words, “given Isiah’s track record, why even bother?” he responded that “it’s simply the right thing to do.” Honestly, that kind of basic competence has been missing for so long I felt my eyes getting a little moist at the sight of it. The way Thomas is dealt with in what are likely his few remaining days with the Knicks will be a meaningful step in the future of the franchise. At some point all the detentes and the revenge plots and whatnot have to stop and you have to start doing business the right way. Walsh, at least at his presser, seems committed to doing business the right way.
* Blueprint: Protecting Cap Flexibility. Walsh didn’t say much about his plans for the franchise other than to suggest firmly that his short-term interest (the next three seasons) is to put the team in position to be a player in the free agent market. He noted that it’d be nice to put a team together that is immediately more competitive, but that was not his main goal. He noted that the team is in a better position with respect to the cap than 3-5 years ago, and he was not planning to threaten that by adding a long-term contract. To quote: “New York has to be flexible enough to be able to reach into the free agent market, and we haven’t been able to do that over the past several years.” Hopefully that means no more mid-level signings like Jeffries and Big Snacks that kill cap flexibility. [Sniffle. I'm forclempt.] So much of good management is simply avoiding the obviously stupid.
* Dolan. Walsh denied the notion that Dolan was reluctant to loosen his vice-like grip on media policy, forcing him to make that a deal-breaker. Who knows how that negotiations actually went, but Walsh said he started hearing that the media policy was a problem from others. Prior to that, he assumed that the policy existed because of the size of the NY media. He said that he wanted more media and fan access, despite recognizing that it results in bad stories sometimes. Lupica asked him what would have made him refuse to come to NY. Walsh answered that he would not have come had Dolan not been different than what he had heard, which if true certainly lends credence to the notion that he gives people a fair shake.
* The Current Roster. When asked, “who on the roster do you like?” his answer was intriguing. He never mentioned David Lee, but mentioned several others by name (Curry, Crawford, Jeffries, Balkman, Robinson). I think it’s a safe assumption that no one on the roster is untouchable, but it’s reading tea leaves to assign any meaning to his failure to mention Lee. It could have been, and was most probably, a perfectly innocent oversight. Or, Walsh could have simply been dropping names of players he’d move for a rack of balls. Or, Walsh may not value David Lee as highly as many of us do.
Overall, it’s not always clear how much you can really learn at a press conference. (Bill Belichick’s introductory presser in New England had to be one of the all-time worst public utterances of any kind anywhere, and that hasn’t turned out too bad.) Nevertheless, I’d say Walsh did what he needed to do at his presser, which was demonstrate basic competence and give us an idea about what he values and how he operates. A low hurdle to be sure, but he signaled that his regime, if nothing else, will be competent, fair, and won’t be afraid to go get the information necessary to make informed decisions.
As the start to a new regime, I’ll take that.