Posted on: June 3, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 7:38 pm
Donnie Walsh came to New York determined to restore honor to the Knicks and steer them off a decade-long path of destruction toward one with the promise of success.
He will not get to finish the job. The theater of the absurd that is Madison Square Garden swallowed up one of the gentlemen of the sport Friday, sent one of the most respected basketball men in history fleeing for the exits.
The news Friday that Walsh will step down from his post as team president when his contract expires June 30 is a devastating blow to the franchise that he nearly singlehandedly resurrected. Gone is the man who cleared nearly $30 million in cap space, built a foundation around two superstar players, invited legends from the past back under the spotlight of the Garden, and gave Knicks fans hope that the days of dysfunction were over.
The story behind Walsh’s quiet negotiations for a new contract in recent months made Friday’s news all the more disturbing. Walsh, 70, was not seeking multiple years or millions at this stage of his basketball life. He was seeking autonomy over basketball decisions – the same autonomy that Garden chairman James Dolan publicly promised he would have when he was introduced in the spring of 2008 as the man who would save the Knicks from themselves.
"The more we talked about it, the more I realized I didn't want a multi-year deal," Walsh said. "I can understand why he'd want that. I just realized I probably wasn't the guy to go forward with."
As recently as midweek, sources said Walsh's situation was either going to result in a two-year extension -- possibly with a team option for a third year -- or Walsh moving back to Indiana, though not necessarily retiring. Dolan’s statement Friday described Walsh’s decision to leave as mutual, while Walsh said he had lost the "energy" required to do the job.
Walsh will stay on as a consultant and head up the search for his replacement, which immediately could focus on the two best candidates not tied to teams: former Trail Blazers executive Kevin Pritchard and former Hornets GM Jeff Bower. Former Cavs GM and current Spurs executive Danny Ferry also is expected to be considered, and a name to watch is Timberwolves assistant GM Tony Ronzone, whose strong international presence and close relationships with the stars of Team USA could be appealing to Dolan. Ronzone also has a working relationship with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni through USA Basketball. D'Antoni has one year left on his contract.
Former Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien, whose consulting contract with the Knicks expires June 30, has to be considered a viable candidate.
Besides who will replace Walsh, the key issue hovering over this stunning development is what assurances he was seeking that he didn’t receive. Money was "never a big issue" for Walsh in the months-long discussions about his future, said a person familiar with the negotiations. In fact, despite widespread reports that Dolan insisted on a 40 percent pay cut for Walsh, the person familiar with the matter said it was Walsh who volunteered to take a substantial pay cut next season in anticipation of a lockout. His concern, the person said, was making sure the rest of the front-office staff -- whose contracts also expire June 30 -- would be taken care of during the work stoppage. Glen Grunwald, the senior vice president of basketball operations, will stay with the team as interim GM during the search for Walsh's replacement.
Throughout Walsh’s discussions with Dolan about his future, it was clear from multiple sources with knowledge of the talks that Walsh would not stay with the Knicks if A) he would not have final say over basketball decisions, or B) there was a chance he could be overruled by the Garden’s many agenda-driven outside influences. The most sinister of those was former team president Isiah Thomas, who remains in close communication with Dolan and in the MSG chairman’s circle of trust – despite running the franchise into the ground and turning the Knicks into a league-wide embarrassment.
“They were a joke for six years,” a rival team executive said Friday. “What Donnie has done for that organization, you’ve got to be kidding me. Come on. The whole world has paid attention to basketball in New York because of the guy – in a positive way.”
Thomas, whose attempted hiring as a consultant by Dolan last summer was nixed by league rules forbidding an NCAA coach to serve in such a role, is not coming back to run the Knicks, sources maintain. But he continues to have Dolan's ear, not to mention the desire to return to the Garden. And while Walsh dismissed the notion that Thomas had anything to do with his decision to leave, the idea of Thomas back-channeling decisions with Dolan would not be palatable to any executive of Walsh's experience and track record.
"The whole thing was going to come down to whether he was going to have autonomy," said a person with knowledge of the discussions. "That’s what this was about."
Walsh's replacement faces the challenging task of adding pieces to complement Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the two stars Walsh landed with the cap space he spent 2 1-2 years demolishing. But Stoudemire and Anthony will combine to make $36.7 million next season; add Chauncey Billups' $14.2 million, and that figure rises to $50.9 million for three players. That's more than Miami's Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are scheduled to make next season, leaving the Knicks the ability to add only minimum-salaried players or those who'd except the mid-level exception -- if there is such a thing in the new collective bargaining agreement. And with the haul of assets Walsh had to give up to land Anthony, the Knicks have few short-term assets to offer in trades aimed at filling their needs for a defensive-minded big man, elite shooting guard, and eventual replacement at point guard for Billups.
That predicament, viewed through the prism of Walsh's departure, only fuels speculation that Dolan hijacked the Anthony trade talks and ordered Walsh to make a trade he didn't want to make -- not at that price, anyway. Walsh again deflected that notion Friday, but a person with knowledge of the trade talks between New York and Denver said Dolan played a prominent role in the deal.
"Donnie had a good hold of it, but I think Dolan had the intentions," the person said. "Dolan wanted Melo at all costs. It was 100 percent Dolan who was the one with an all-costs Melo type thing. And Donnie was saying, 'This would be a good trade, but let’s do it the right way."
He did everything the right way in three years rebuilding the Knicks, a job that now goes to someone else to finish.
Posted on: July 15, 2010 3:08 pm
LAS VEGAS -- The Warriors going to Peter Guber and Joe Lacob instead of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison can certainly be viewed as an upset. But not nearly as upsetting to Warriors fans as something else that could result from the transfer of power from Chris Cohan: A decision by the new guys to leave bad enough alone and keep the decision-making tandem of Don Nelson and Larry Riley in place.
Immediately upon approval of the NBA's Board of Governors, the easiest and best decision Guber and Lacob could make would be cleaning out the Warriors' dysfunctional front office and starting over again. There are plenty of good candidates for both jobs available.
The coaching position would be easy to fill. The Warriors have been grooming assistant coach Keith Smart to replace Nelson for a while now, and he'd be the perfect choice to finally get the job.
As for GM, this summer has been open season on general managers in the NBA, so the list of qualified people to replace Riley is lengthy: Kevin Pritchard, Rod Thorn, Danny Ferry, Jeff Bower and David Griffin are all free agents. Jerry West, whose name has long been associated with a possible takeover of the Warriors, would be a home run -- if he's willing to get back into the grind. Even if he isn't, a tandem of West and Griffin, who worked together in Memphis, would be a solid 1-2 punch. West would restore class and vision to the organization, and Griffin -- who has a keen eye for talent and a deep understanding of the salary-cap and CBA, at least in its current form -- would be an ace in the day-to-day GM role.
Pritchard and Ferry haven't aggressively pursued any of the numerous GM openings to this point, leading to speculation that they're waiting for a more prestigious job to come along. Despite the aimless wandering of the Warriors in recent years under Nellie and Riley, there are few NBA locales more desirable than the Bay Area and few jobs with as much potential to make a meaningful imprint. From that standpoint, reviving the Warriors has West's name -- and logo -- written all over it. But it's not entirely clear if West, 72, wants to return to a front-office role. Sources familiar with Thorn's decision to step down in New Jersey said the longtime Nets boss was under the distinct impression that West, a relentless workaholic during his glory days as an NBA team executive, finally had come to enjoy retirement. Seeing West finally embrace being out of the spotlight appealed to Thorn, 69, on a certain level.
The other aspect of the Warriors' sale that warrants a mention in today's news cycle is the price: $450 million, a record for an NBA franchise that surpassed the previous mark of $401 million paid by Robert Sarver for the Suns in 2004. One of the key sticking points in the negotiations between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement is the escalating value of NBA franchises. If the league's financial system is so broken, the players argue, why would someone pay nearly a half-billion dollars to join the club?
But the disagreement runs deeper than that. In an interview with CBSSports.com Wednesday, NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said a point of contention in reconciling commissioner David Stern's latest assertion that the league lost $370 million during the 2009-10 season is the cost associated with buying and owning the teams. Hunter said the league's finances include such expenses as interest and depreciation, which he views as costs that should be borne by the owners and not the players. The Warriors' sale is the perfect example of why such costs shouldn't be used as an excuse to cut player salaries. Here is the simple reason why:
Cohan bought the Warriors for $119 million in 1995. His capital gain of $331 million, less expenses, is his to keep. If the owners want to count interest and depreciation expenses in the formula that determines player salaries, then the players should receive a cut of the profit when owners sell their teams. The owners, for obvious reasons, would never agree to such an arrangement. The players, for equally obvious reasons, should never allow the expenses associated with investing in the purchases of NBA teams to be taken out of their pockets at the bargaining table.
"You can't expect the players to pay for the damn franchise," Hunter sad. "You can't tell me we have obligation to pay for your franchise and then split the difference with you."
Just a couple of things to think about as you digest the news of the Golden State Warriors becoming the highest-priced franchise ever purchased in NBA history.
Posted on: June 15, 2010 8:00 pm
LOS ANGELES -- With Tom Izzo's decision Tuesday to stay at Michigan State, the Cavaliers are right back where they've been since their stunning playoff loss to the Celtics: in LeBron limbo.
Izzo couldn't come to terms with leaving East Lansing without knowing if he'd be coaching LeBron James or not -- even if it was for $6 million a year. LeBron has strategically removed himself from the Cavs' coaching search, and in fact hasn't said a word publicly about the organizational demolition that the loss to Boston fueled. Unless you count the Larry King love fest on CNN, James hasn't publicly addressed the firing of coach Mike Brown or the unceremonious departure of general manager Danny Ferry.
Word is that while he didn't reject the notion of Izzo coaching the Cavs, he didn't entirely endorse it, either. In any event, LeBron apparently wouldn't even speak with Izzo about his intentions when it comes to his impending free agency. In fact, one person who has been in contact with the Cavs' front office said LeBron has been incommunicado with team officials, as well.
So once again, the Cavs are held hostage by LeBron. They can't move forward with any serious offseason plans -- franchise-shaping plans -- until they know whether LBJ is staying or going. Cavs GM Chris Grant has the least enviable job in the NBA, other than the media relations director of LeBron's next team, whatever that might be. (I'll expand on that another time, but for now, to say that LeBron is high maintenance is like saying Shakira has been known to slightly gyrate her hips from time to time.)
Two NBA team executives told CBSSports.com Tuesday that the Cavs were busily proceeding with their coaching search even before Izzo's decision became public, with much of the focus centering on former Hornets coach Byron Scott. One of those people said the Cavs were screening numerous candidates. But Scott, or any other candidate, would want the same information Izzo was unable to glean about LeBron's future. And Scott's situation also will be affected by how the Finals end for the Lakers. If Phil Jackson decides to step down, Scott is the most plausible candidate waiting in the wings to replace him.
Those executives also said Grant was performing his due diligence on the trade front, asking several teams about acquiring draft picks. The Cavs have no picks in the 2010 draft, having traded them to Washington (first round) and Phoenix (second round). But even in that pursuit, the executives said Grant's hands are tied because he can't possibly know what kind of trades to make if he doesn't know whether LeBron will be on the team. Grant is trying to proceed as though LeBron will stay, but as Izzo's situation proved, that's an exceedingly difficult tightrope to walk.
Posted on: June 4, 2010 2:23 pm
Edited on: June 4, 2010 11:00 pm
LOS ANGELES -- In what the team is describing as a "mutual" parting of ways, Danny Ferry is out as general manager and will be replaced by assistant GM Chris Grant.
After five years as GM, Ferry's contract was up and the team announced Friday that he and owner Dan Gilbert agreed not to renew it. The move comes as superstar LeBron James is about to become a free agent, with the prospect of him leaving the Cavs threatening to devastate the city and organization.
Welcome to the hot seat, Chris Grant.
Hired as GM two years after the Cavs drafted LeBron, Ferry spent much of that time establishing a winning culture and doing everything possible to appease James by surrounding him with talent the King regarded as championship caliber. Despite Ferry's efforts -- which included acquiring Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal and Antawn Jamison -- the Cavs never achieved the right mix. Williams never developed into the consistent No. 2 scoring threat, especially in the postseason; the O'Neal gamble backfired; and Jamison came up small in his first -- and possibly last -- postseason run with James.
With coach Mike Brown and now Ferry out, the fallout from Cleveland's surprising loss to the Celtics in the conference semifinals has been swift and far-reaching. All Grant has to do now is hire a coach, keep LeBron, and surround him with enough talent to win a championship. It's a pretty tall task; just ask Ferry.
And with the restless Gilbert calling the shots -- and no doubt watching LeBron's hour-long interview on the Larry King Show Friday night for clues as to what he'll decide come July 1 -- the Cavs' situation is in the ultimate state of flux. Speculation immediately focused on whether Gilbert had a power play in mind for a big name to take over as the Cavs' coach and president of basketball operations. The name most often linked to the Cavs, due to his relationship with James, is that of Kentucky coach John Calipari, who recently refuted the notion that he would leave Lexington for a return to the NBA.
With a coaching vacancy and the path cleared for Gilbert to lure a big name to replace Ferry, the Cavs are now on equal footing with other potential suitors for LeBron that also have an opening to hire the coach of his choice. On his CNN interview, which aired Friday night, James reiterated that he does not want to hand-pick his next coach, but made a point of saying that there are several coaches that would intrigue him. James also said he is "far from close" to making a decision.
Although Commissioner David Stern said Thursday night that he has been assured "at the highest levels" that there would be no so-called free-agent summit, James said in the interview with King that he does, in fact, plan to discuss his plans with other top free agents -- and that he was interested in learning their plans. According to James, top players getting together to decide where to play -- and with whom -- was an opportunity for them to determine how to "better the league."
Posted on: February 27, 2009 9:49 am
1) Where do the Cavs turn for inside help down the stretch?
As for question No. 1, you had better believe that Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti will be hearing from Cavs GM Danny Ferry -- if he hasn't already. Presti has a former piece of Cavs property, power forward Joe Smith, who many predicted would be traded or released by now. So far, Presti has held onto Smith and his $4.8 million expiring contract. Smith would have to be bought out and waived by Sunday in order to be eligible for the Cavs' playoff roster.
There's no trading for Smith now, but there are such things as favors in the NBA. If Presti releases Smith, he might find a little IOU from Ferry in his mailbox. Stay tuned.
Another option is Drew Gooden, another former Cav who is expected to be bought out by Sacramento. Gooden just returned from a month-long absence due to a groin injury, but was effective Wednesday night with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes against Charlotte.
As for question No. 2, we'll have to wait and see how the Cavs fill the void. But as of now, the answer is a resounding yes.