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 17, 2010 11:20 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2010 12:38 am
LAS VEGAS -- In a fast-moving search for a general manager to replace the fired Jeff Bower, Hornets officials have interviewed former Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, former Suns executive David Griffin and Wizards executive Tommy Sheppard, with the intention of further escalating their search early next week, sources with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com.
Griffin, who left the Suns' front office in the wake of team president Steve Kerr's departure, joins Sheppard, Pritchard and Spurs executive Dell Demps on the list of candidates Hornets president Hugh Weber has spoken with about the job. Demps has met twice with Hornets officials, including having dinner with coach Monty Williams Friday night. Demps and Williams were teammates in San Antonio and have been friends ever since. Sheppard, the top assistant under GM Ernie Grunfeld, is a rising star among NBA execs and was instrumental in quickly and responsibly slashing the Wizards' payroll after the Gilbert Arenas situation last season. Pritchard interviewed for the job Saturday, two people familiar with the Hornets' search told CBSSports.com.
Due to their relationship, Demps is believed to be a prohibitive favorite for the job -- but also is a strong candidate to be installed as the personnel man under incoming Suns president Lob Babby, a former player agent who is scheduled to arrive in Phoenix Monday to be fornally introduced as the team's new head of basketball operations.
The Hornets also have expressed interest in former Trail Blazers execs Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn and former Kings assistant GM Jason Levien. Also, Bucks assistant GM Jeff Weltman is expected to be on the Hornets' radar. Weber flew back to New Orleans Sunday, and the Hornets are hoping to have a GM in place by midweek or the end of the week, sources say.
Posted on: July 16, 2010 11:15 pm
LAS VEGAS -- Hornets coach Monty Williams has read the reports indicating that Chris Paul is unhappy in New Orleans. But the Hornets' first-year coach isn't going to believe it until he hears it from his superstar point guard's mouth.
Williams plans to sit down with Paul for a face-to-face meeting in the near future in an effort to clear the air about the point guard's concerns and sell him on his vision.
"I want him to feel as excited as I am about where we’re going," Williams said after watching the Hornets' Summer League team Friday. "We have a bit of a new vision that I think is something that he can be excited about – and not just from an on-the-court standpoint. We’re working to get this thing continuing in the right direction."
Despite the fact that Wiliams has yet to coach a game for the Hornets, he already finds himself as the organization's lone basketball figure in the midst of a chaotic summer. The Hornets fired GM Jeff Bower this week and are in the process of hiring his replacement. Team president High Weber has scheduled interviews with Wizards assistant GM Tommy Sheppard and Kings assistant GM Jason Levien, and already has spoken with Spurs executive Dell Demps. Weber also wants to discuss the opening with former Trail Blazers execs Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn, as well as former Suns exec David Griffin, sources said.
Meanwhile, Paul was quoted earlier this month as saying that he's "open to being traded" if the Hornets aren't committed to winning and competing with the Lakers, Celtics and other top teams.
"All I've seen from him is that he wants to win," Williams said. "All that other stuff, I've never seen him say anything. Every article has been somebody speculating or someone from inside the camp. I don’t have a camp. I've got me and my wife and my kids, so I don’t even know how that works. All I've seen for him is that he wants to win. I hope so, because that’s what we want. That’s not my personality to jump on some rumor or conjecture. The things he tells me straight up, that’s what I believe."
A specific date for Williams' sitdown with his disgruntled point guard has not been set, and Williams doesn't want to intrude on Paul's summer -- which gets more interesting by the day. Last week, it was reported that Paul toasted to forming "our own Big Three" in New York with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony at Anthony's wedding. Williams spoke with Paul about his vision for the team after he was hired, but that was before Paul's recent comments.
"I tend to let guys do their things in the summer time," Williams said. "I don’t want to get down his back with all my plans and let my excitement get in the way of his summer. I had a chance to spend a week with him two weeks ago and we had a chance to talk about a lot of stuff. He’s on the same page with us and I'm excited about working with him."
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: February 18, 2009 11:32 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2009 12:28 am
In a stunning development announced shortly after 11 p.m. EST, the trade sending Chandler to the Thunder for the expiring contracts of Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, plus the rights to 2008 second-round pick DeVon Hardin, was voided. It wasn't clear what issue Thunder doctors discovered, but it doesn't matter. The deal's off.
"We welcome Tyson back with open arms," Hornets general manager Jeff Bower said in a statement released by the team. "We went into this trade to garner more frontcourt depth to add to our team as we continue our push towards the playoffs. We expect Tyson and the rest of our big guys to step up to the challenge."
Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a statement: "During the course of the physical examination and outside consultations, some questions arose that gave us cause for concern. We felt that this course of action was the best for our organization.”
UPDATE: Yahoo! Sports reports that the injury in question is turf toe, which Chandler had surgically repaired a couple of years ago. Regardless, the next question is this: Where do the Hornets turn now to get the luxury tax and payroll savings they thought they'd achieved with the Chandler deal?
The cash-strapped Hornets thought they were going to save almost $12 million next season and close to $25 over the next two years by trading Chandler. The only way they can clear that much money without tearing up their team is to part with Peja Stojakovic, who is due almost $30 million over the next two years. The trade deadline just became a lot more interesting.