The Knicks have spent the last two years (losing and) preparing for this summer, so any evaluation of Donnie Walsh before then was pointless. It’s still impossible to give a definitive evaluation as he’s wisely set us up with cap space available next year as well as young talent (Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph) that are still developing. Sure, you can argue that any team can always improve, does that mean you can never give out a final evaluation until the person’s tenure is finished? No, but for instance, teams like Milwaukee, Atlanta, Dallas, the Lakers and many other teams are over the cap and thus don’t have that much room to significantly change (although actually with Milwaukee since they have the still developing cornerstones of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut it would be too premature to judge them at this point).
A few things about how I evaluate GM/President-types like Donnie Walsh:
1. I don’t believe in negative Monday morning quarterbacking, so I don’t punish people for making decisions that were widely held to be smart at the time, but ended up working out poorly. Meaning if LeBron James breaks his leg in seventeen places in a car accident tomorrow and can never really play better than an average player again, I can’t fault Pat Riley for signing him down the road.
2. I do, however, believe in giving credit for decisions that seemed poor/insignificant at the time but turned out great. When the Suns reacquired Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks, many pundits felt they overpaid due to Nash’s back issues and age. Two MVPs and many amazing seasons later, it’s clear that was a good move.
3. Draft-wise, in addition to no negative Monday morning quarterbacking, I also don’t believe that if someone makes a pick that turns out surprisingly great, you can’t fault all the other teams for passing on the guy. Like Isiah Thomas gets kudos for finding David Lee at #30, but since no one thought he’d be as good as he ended up being, I can’t penalize all other 29 teams for passing on him.
We’ll break his tenure down into the following categories to evaluate: Drafting, Trades/Free Agency Signings, and Other/General. For each positive thing, I’ll add some points (the # of points will depend on how big a thing it was). Similarly, for each negative decision, I’ll subtract some points. We’ll keep a rolling tally.
2008 – Danilo Gallinari.
I know my colleague, Chase Thomas, is bitter we didn’t choose Eric Gordon, and while Gordon may well end up being the superior player, Gallo’s been solid for us. Grade: +1
Subtotal = +1
2009 – Jordan Hill, Toney Douglas
Again, Chase can’t stand the Hill pick and is bitter we didn’t take Brandon Jennings. While Chase was vocal in his desires for Jennings at the time, many people had huge questions about him due to his underperformance over in Europe. That could have made me forgive the pick except for two things: 1) Donnie subsequently traded Hill. If he thought Hill was a prospect that he couldn’t pass up on, then he should’ve given him more than half a season to prove himself. If he was only lukewarm on Hill and could give up on him that soon, then he should’ve gone for Jennings or someone else. 2) Perhaps more incriminating is that we not only desperately needed a point guard, but no top notch point guards were gonna be available during free agency. However, we knew there’d be a glut of power forwards, so it made little sense to draft another one, even though many people believe a talented big is more rare/valuable than a small/point guard. Grade: -2
Subtotal = -1
However, it was nice he got a solid player in Toney Douglas with the 29th pick (a spot that tends to be a total crapshoot as to whether the guy’ll even play in the league). Grade: +1
Subtotal = 0
2010 – Andy Rautins, Landry Fields, Jerome Jordan
Honestly, all three of these picks are second-rounders, and as I showed in a post prior to the draft, the chance of getting an eventual starter is barely more than 5%. As such it’s hard for me to get too happy or disappointed with these picks. Jordan’s already playing overseas, and if either Rautins or Fields ends up being a regular bench player, then this’ll have been a success. If they’re both gone by December, that’s pretty standard, so it all adds up to a big fat zip to me. Grade: 0
Subtotal = 0
That’s the end of Part I, leaving Donnie Walsh at zero based solely on his drafts. He hasn’t done a good job at it, nor has he done a truly bad job. We’ll see if his grade goes up or down tomorrow and whether he’s ultimately been a positive or negative influence on the team.