Supposedly at the insistence of commissioner David Stern, James Dolan hires Walsh to bring the Knicks from international laughingstock back to respectability. Walsh announces a Two Year plan: To restore cap flexibility while still trying to win as many games as possible.
Walsh had hired Isiah in 2000 to coach the Pacers. Reports were that Walsh liked Isiah and wanted him to stay as coach but new Pacer President Larry Bird wanted Isiah fired. There was no way Walsh and Isiah could co-exist. Unlike Lenny Wilken’s physical ejection from MSG, Walsh ushers Isiah out as quietly and respectfully as possible, letting him finish out the season as coach, then allowing him to stay with the team as a draft consultant. (Hmmm… treat others as you would want others to treat you, perhaps?)
Walsh convinces established winner Mike D’Antoni to choose the Knicks rebuilding job over the Bulls playoff-ready roster. Does so by spending Dolan’s money in a way that doesn’t effect the salary cap (4 years, $24 million). A few weeks later the Bulls win the lottery and select Derrick Rose while the Knicks officially begin their “Two Year Plan”.
Walsh reportedly wants Russell Westbrook who is off the board when the Knicks go on the clock. Instead he selects Italian 19 year old Danilo Gallinari, who D’Antoni has a relationship with dating from his days playing in Italy with Gallinari’s father. The rest of the lottery proceeds to be: Eric Gordon, Joe Alexander, D.J. Augustin, Brook Lopez, Jerryd Bayless, Jason Thompson, and Anthony Randolph.
Walsh signs Duhon to be the starting PG, unofficially ending the Stephon Marbury era. D’Antoni says he has a system, he just needs an engine to run it. Declares Duhon to be the heir to the system that Steve Nash perfected.
Walsh makes his first trade, sending productive forward Renaldo Balkman to Denver for Bobby Jones, Taureen Green (the son of Knick legend Sidney Green), and a 2nd round pick. Jones and Green are waived several days later. The 2nd round draft pick becomes Landry Fields.
In a desperate attempt to grab positive headlines, Walsh brilliantly trades legendary draft bust Frederic Weis to the Nuggets for all-time great Patrick Ewing (‘s significantly less talented son, Patrick Ewing Jr.). Thus begins the second Ewing Era, which amounts to a series of flirtations and ultimate heartbreak for the Ewing family, as Walsh waives Jr. not once but twice over the next two years.
In keeping with his stated long-range plan, Walsh trades Jamal Crawford to Golden State for Al Harrington. Reportedly, Walsh tells Golden State GM Chris Mullin he can have his choice of Isiah-disaster players (The “Big Four” of Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries, Zach Randolph, and Jamal Crawford) for disgruntled Warrior Al Harrington. Mullin chooses Crawford. Several hours later Walsh trades Randolph, along with Mardy Collins, for Ex-Knick Tim Thomas and Ex-basketball player Cuttino Mobley.
This represents the first major day in the life of Donnie Walsh as Knick president. It puts in motion a plan to target the free agent class of 2010 and from here there is no going back. At the time of the trade, the “Big Four” were all deemed “untradable”. Randolph and Crawford were, apparently, the least “untradable” as they were not only traded by the Knicks, but within a year, both were traded again. It should be noted that the rate of return diminished even further, as Jamal Crawford was traded for a package of Acie Law and retiree Speedy Claxton, and Zach Randolph was traded for fellow Knick outcast Quentin Richardson (more on him later). It should also be noted that Jamal Crawford went on to win 6th man of the year in 2010 and Zach Randolph went on to become an All Star with the Grizzlies.
In a trade day full of lateral moves, Walsh elects not to add any long-term contracts, instead trading Isiah blunders Jerome James and Malik Rose for Walsh blunders Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox. Interestingly, Chris Wilcox had been traded earlier that week for Tyson Chandler, who failed his physical and was sent back to cash strapped New Orleans. Presumably the Hornets would have still been open to trading Wilcox for Chandler, if NY was willing to ignore the results of the physical (they had, after all, still gone through with the Cuttino Mobley trade, despite a physical revealing certain death should Mobley ever suit up for the Knicks). In the end, though, Walsh keeps to the long-term plan of not taking on contracts that run past 2010 (Chandler’s deal ran to 2011). Chandler, it should be noted, is a preeminent defending, rebounding, high-efficiency, low-usage big man—the kind of player that the Knicks current roster desperately needs.
It should also be noted that multiple reports indicated that Walsh turned down a trade offer from Sacramento that would have sent Nate Robinson and Big Four member Jared Jeffries to California in exchange for 2010 expiring contract Kenny Thomas. Walsh never confirmed this deal to have been on the table, so speculate as you will. But if Walsh did, in fact, turn it down, it should stand as a dark bruise on Donnie’s record.
February 24, 2009: Stephon Marbury waived.
With the trade deadline passing, and no takers for Marbury’s gargantuan expiring contract, Walsh officially washes his hands of Stephon Marbury and his morale damaging antics. Marbury had been benched—then banished—kept on the roster solely as trade-filler should a mega-deal arise. Walsh’s treatment of Marbury held true to Stern’s mandate that the Knicks stop being a circus and start being a basketball team.
In a draft rich in PG prospects (Rubio, Flynn, Curry, Jennings, Holiday, Lawson, Teague, Maynor, Collison, Beaubois…) Walsh selects PF Jordan Hill with the #8 pick, much to the consternation of statistically inclined Knick fans.
Walsh also purchases the Laker’s first round pick for $3 million, again spending Dolan’s money in a way that doesn’t effect cap flexibility. With it he selects combo-guard Tony Douglas, soon to be the longest tenured Knick.
Walsh also trades Isiah-era hanger-on-er Quentin Richardson for Darko Milicic, acquiring a much needed big man. Milicic subsequently doesn’t play, making this a pointless move to discuss. It should be noted, though, that the move fit in to Walsh’s real long-term goal of acquiring all of the top 5 draft picks from the class of 2003. Interestingly, Pat Riley also attempted to do the same. Riley in the end beat Walsh 3 to 1, with Milicic the only one to not end the 2011 season on either the Knicks or the Heat.
Walsh avoids adding 2010 payroll by signing David Lee and Nate Robinson to one year deals, effectively making them both lame-duck Knicks.
The second landmark day for Walsh as Knick GM saw Walsh finally trade the untrabable Jared Jeffries. The price was steep, though, as it cost the Knicks rookie Jordan Hill and their 2012 first round draft pick. In exchange, the Knicks obtained faded star Tracy McGrady and Spanish rental Sergio Rodriguez. Neither proved productive as Knicks, but both expired in time for the summer of 2010.
That same day, Walsh made his first vertical move into 2010, acquiring cheap swing-man Bill Walker from the Celtics for soon-to-be-renounced Nate Robinson. Walker represented Walsh’s first acquired asset that would be retained for the “rebuilt” Knicks.
After swinging and missing in the D-League on players like Joe Crawford, Demetris Nichols, Courtney Simms, Saer Sene, and others, Walsh manages to pluck an NBA worthy talent. Barron puts up replacement level numbers (11 ppg, 11 rpg in 7 games). In the end, Barron’s league minimum salary is renounced in favor of cap space.
Armed with only 2nd round picks, Walsh drafts Andy Rautins (#38), Landry Fields (#39), and purchases James Jordan (#44), adding three minimum wage non-guaranteed contracts to help fill out a non-existent roster. Fields, not even on most teams’ draft boards, puts up a sensational rookie season, starting 81 games at SG and finishing third in his draft class in Rookie of the Year voting.
Hoping to score two superstars in the free agent bonanza of 2010, Walsh lands his first, signing Amar’e Stoudemire to a 5 year, $99 million deal. Amar’e instantly becomes the best player since Patrick Ewing to wear a Knicks jersey.
In the single most important day for the Knicks franchise since May 14th, 1985, LeBron James chooses the Miami Heat over the Knicks, turning Donnie Walsh’s Two Year plan into a Four or Five year plan.
Minutes later Walsh trades fan favorite David Lee to Golden State for injured Kelenna Azubuike, Center Ronnie Turiaf, and intriguing prospect Anthony Randolph. Lee, already replaced at PF by newly acquired Amar’e Stoudemire, nets a hefty return in three rotation players.
With few PGs to choose from amongst the enormous pool of free agents, Walsh signs who he believes to be the best available engine for D’Antoni’s rebult Knicks, former #4 draft pick Ray Felton. Amid a mass frenzy that saw mediocre players maxed out, Felton signs for a reasonable 2 year, $14 Million.
July 13, 2010: Timofey Mozgov signed.
Needing to add size to the roster, Walsh signs unheralded Russian big man Timofey Mozgov to a 3 year, $9 million deal (parts of it partially guaranteed).
September 23, 2010: Shawne Williams signed.
In what seems like a favor to an old friend that had fallen on hard times, Walsh invites former Walsh lottery pick Shawne Williams to training camp. To the surprise of many, Williams beats out Patrick Ewing Jr. for the final roster spot, becoming the 15th man on the depth chart. By January, Williams will have worked his way into the rotation while leading the league in 3 point shooting.
In what seems to have been the beginning of the end of Donnie Walsh in New York, Walsh caves after months of posturing, giving away every asset on the roster but the rookie Landry Fields. In the days leading up to the trade, the rabid, insatiable media speculated that James Dolan had taken over negotiations. Soon after speculation began that the disgraced Isiah Thomas was giving more input than Walsh. The suddenly embattled Walsh, already wheelchair ridden, insisted the trade was made by his own accord. Skeptics remained dubious.
The trade, which sent Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Ray Felton, a 2014 draft pick, Anthony Randolph, and Eddy Curry away and brought in Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Corey Brewer, effectively purged the roster of the last of Isiah’s “Big Four”, Eddy Curry the only “untradable” that truly was untradable up to the very end.
February 28, 2011: Corey Brewer waived. Derrick Brown claimed off waivers.
With the Knicks falling to last in defensive efficiency after the trade, Walsh waives newly acquired defensive specialist Corey Brewer. In his place Derrick Brown is claimed. Brown goes on to play 88 minutes of garbage.
I a fitting swan song, the last transaction in Donnie Walsh’s Knicks career is the signing of Jared Jeffries. Yes, this is the same Jared Jeffries that cost Walsh two first round picks to trade just one year earlier. Finally paid what he is worth (league minimum) Jeffries goes on to drop the ball while trying to make a game winning lay up in game two of the Knicks’ four game sweep by the Celtics.