NEW YORK -- The Basketball Hall of Fame did not extend an invitation to Chris Mullin on Monday, passing on the basketball great and Golden State Warriors executive in a stellar class that included none other than Michael Jordan. Although Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats have begun to resemble a team with a plan, the criteria obviously weren't based on front-office accomplishments. If they were, Mullin -- and not Jordan -- would've gotten in.
These are strange days for Mullin, who has been shamefully marginalized in the Golden State front office as his contract winds down to its termination date at the end of June. Once that happens, he'll be a free agent, and any number of wayward teams figure to come calling. But one option for Mullin remains as intriguing as any -- to me, and also to Mullin, I'm told. You see, Knicks president Donnie Walsh has yet to follow through on his plan to hire a No. 2 in command in New York, and Mullin would be the perfect fit.
He's done it before, with success. He's a native New Yorker who'd partly satisfy one of Walsh's overarching plans for the team to reconnect not only with its alumni but also with the very fabric of New York City basketball tradition. He's as honest and trustworthy as they come, qualities that Walsh values greatly. They know each other inside and out from their time together with the Indiana Pacers. It all seems like such a natural fit.
A couple of problems. First, Mullin has established strong ties in the Bay Area, and with children in school there, significant forces would be pulling against returning to the other coast. If the opportunity were right, I'm told, this wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker for Mullin, who at 46 has an entire career ahead of him as a basketball executive.
Next, there is the issue of where Mullin would fit into the hierarchy with the Knicks. The team has been happy with current No. 2 man Glen Grunwald, a company guy who doesn't need the spotlight or the credit and has more than one year left on his contract. If Walsh hires someone this summer, it wouldn't be to replace Grunwald, necessarily, but to join him.
Finally, some believe there is a far more significant impediment for Mullin's possible homecoming: the Knicks' coach, Mike D'Antoni, who enjoys as much power as any NBA coach. But D'Antoni has never worked with Mullin and doesn't know him well. One well-placed source has told me that if and when the Knicks hire a second-in-command in the front office, D'Antoni has a list of candidates he'd feel comfortable working with. Not that he has anything against Mullin, but Mullin isn't on the list.
D'Antoni has flexed his muscles in ways big and small since getting the Knicks job, and for good reason. His resume speaks for itself, and he's at the top of every potential free agent's coaching wish list. His comments over the weekend in Toronto about how nobody on the Knicks' roster is safe provided only the latest example of how much influence D'Antoni wields with personnel decisions. (As if there should be any doubt after the way he singlehandedly banished Stephon Marbury from the team even though Walsh preferred to keep him around and shop him.)
While several potential candidates have contacted Walsh to express interest, Mullin has not. Despite how he's been treated in Golden State, Mullin would never let that change who he is -- a loyal company man who is under contract until June 30. But it's clear that Mullin would listen, and should be even clearer that Walsh would want to discuss it with him once his contract is up.
Walsh has done virtually no work this season on hiring a No. 2 man and eventual successor, and won't even begin the process until July. While he'd never hire someone D'Antoni was absolutely opposed to, there are strong indications that Walsh also wouldn't limit his list of candidates to those who would meet D'Antoni's approval. (Walsh and D'Antoni haven't discussed this potential hire in detail, I'm told, and won't until after the season.)
As he approaches the end of his first full season in New York, Walsh gets A's all around for hiring a championship-caliber coach, creating flexibility to improve the team by moving debilitating contracts, and reconnecting this once proud franchise to its roots (as evidenced by the long overdue Legends Night ceremony last month, which met everyone's approval but Stan Van Gundy's). He's restored respect, decency, and strong management to a franchise that had been lacking all three for too long. Walsh's next task -- even before the 2010 free agent bonanza begins -- will be to give the Knicks something else they've sorely lacked: stability. He can do that by hiring a capable, respected executive to work by his side and eventually take over when Walsh, 68, retires in two or three years.
The Knicks could do a lot worse than Mullin. Who knows? Depending on how he did here, maybe he'd eventually get into the Hall of Fame.