Last Friday the Knicks made headlines by announcing that Donnie Walsh was stepping down as the team president. The decision shocked the league, and Walsh did his best to quell conspiracy theories that sprouted like wildfire. Knick fans came out en masse showering Walsh with love. But was it well deserved?
Despite the big name recognition and jersey sales, the Knicks are still in the middle tier of NBA teams. In his time as president, Donnie Walsh made some considerable mistakes. In the 2009 draft Walsh chose Jordan Hill, who saw his stock plummet on draft day, instead of grabbing the point guard (Jennings, Lawson) that the team still needs. Given how dependent D’Antoni’s offense is on having a capable distributor, this was an obvious blunder. Another questionable move was when the Knicks had to sweeten Jeffries contract with Hill and their 2012 1st round pick in order to free up cap space for the summer of 2010. Additionally Donnie Walsh’s “cool poker player” reputation took a hit in the controversial Carmelo Anthony trade, when he sent nearly every young player on the roster (Gallo, Chandler, Felton, Randolph, Mozgov) and their 2014 1st rounder in a midseason deadline deal.
Hence from a more unbiased perspective Walsh did merely an average job during his tenure. So why all the love from Big Apple residents? Part of it stems from a misunderstanding of the true nature of the league and its players. For months Knick fans were force fed a steady diet of “Carmelo Anthony is a top 10 NBA player” and “a team needs three stars to win a championship” from the mainstream media. This simplistic, and frankly dumbed-down, version of reality made it easy for the common man to buy into MSG narrative. The Knicks failed to make it to the second round of the playoffs because Carmelo Anthony replicated Amar’e Stoudemire’s skillset (volume scoring, poor defense) and Walsh gutted his team’s depth along the way. During his good-bye conference call Walsh mentioned how this upcoming year is just important as his first two, and that the team needed to fill in the blanks between his superstars. In a way it was an admittance of his past mistakes.
On the other hand Walsh brought respectability to the franchise. The Knick team he inherited was built on a decade of incompetence and was coming off a sex scandal that centered around previous president and the star point guard. Donnie Walsh went about his job in a competent fashion, but also added an air of respectability. In my dealings with him, he was straightforward and courteous. Even during his final farewell Walsh was calm and distinguished, despite the media storm around him trying to twist his words to fit their narrative. Much like the Dutch boy who saves the city by keeping his finger in the dike, Donnie Walsh’s removal meant a flood of negative press rained down on the team.
In a way, Walsh was more valuable to the team than either of their star players. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, for all of their on the court talents, can’t protect the team from the onslaught of negative attention to the team. Luckily for Knick fans, Walsh is more replaceable than the pair of All Stars on the roster. It shouldn’t be too hard for James Dolan to find another president that run the organization with credibility to deflect the muckraking from the media. Of course hiring the wrong person will mean a return to darker times. New Yorkers are in a state of anxiety over Walsh’s departure because with one move Dolan can undo all of the good that Donnie did over the last 3 years, and hence why there is so much love for Donnie Walsh.