Grading Donnie Walsh, Part IV, The Final Chapter

New York Knicks head coach Mike D

Today we examine many fans' most hated move by Donnie Walsh: hiring Mike D'Antoni. They might not like our opinion on the subject. (Source: Yardbarker.com)

We’re now on the last lap of our Donnie Walsh analysis.  We’ve gone over his Drafting ability (which earned him a zero), his Trades (a nice +3) and his Free Agency Signings (another +3).  Today we look at the remaining qualities under the amorphous title of General/Other, which includes just two large elements.  Honestly, I’ve now forgotten some of the things I was gonna examine in this section, so forgive me if I don’t include something important.  I should’ve jotted down quick notes when I started this endeavor but I never remember that I tend to never remember things.  It’s a curse.  I think.  I don’t remember.  But probably it has been.  Anyway, The rules again:

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.

4. 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.

General/Other

Summer 2008 – Hires Mike D’Antoni as coach.

Tons of Knick fans have been outraged, calling for the head of D’Antoni because the team never plays defense.  The odd thing is that most of these fans weren’t complaining when he was hired, even though he was well-known for not being a particularly good defensive coach.  His Phoenix teams weren’t quite as awful as people said, but they tended to fall right in the middle of the field in most stats/ways of measuring defense.  As I said I don’t believe in Monday morning quarterbacking.  I think a lot of the same happened with Larry Brown.  Everyone hailed Brown’s hiring at the time, but when the team stunk more than ever, people panned the move.  The real issue was that Brown always wants to trade away all his players and gets excited by acquiring new shiny pieces from other teams, so he needs a strong executive in place to tell him no.  Instead Isiah Thomas bowed to his every wish, securing Steve Francis even though they already had Stephon Marbury, and swapping for Jalen Rose despite the team desperately not needing another player who demanded the rock on offense.  But that was then, this is now.  Back to D’Antoni.

I’ve been frustrated by the man as much as anyone, but more because of shoving players in and out of the doghouse and what seems like a lack of clear communication with those players.  Yes, I haven’t loved the lack of defense, and I looooved the Riley/Van Gundy era Knicks who were all about defense.  However, as I said, I never expected them to be a particularly good D team once D’Antoni was hired.  But I did expect them to be more interesting/exciting on offense.  And let’s be fair here, they actually came out of the gate in 2008 looking pretty darn good.  They seemed like a playoff contender until Walsh traded away that team’s top two performers, Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph.  And with last year’s roster, you could’ve had a magical mutant illegitimate combined offspring of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Reds Auerback and Holzman, Larry Brown and Mike Krzyzewski, and he still wouldn’t have been able to coach this team past, what 38 wins?

So just as it wasn’t until after this summer that one could truly begin to judge Walsh’s tenure, I likewise believe one can’t really fairly evaluate D’Antoni until we get into this season.  This will be the first time he has some talent and a team that knows they’re not just biding time until we can make a run at LeBron and Wade.  Along those lines, any trades made mid-season will only be made to clearly help us present term rather than simply getting rid of useful pieces to clear cap space.  If we trade away say Gallo, it’s ‘cuz we’re getting Carmelo Anthony back.

Interestingly, some of the “previews” I’ve read about the Knicks for the upcoming season have said that they’ll probably start the season weak and then after tinkering throughout the year they’ll gel and be good by the end.  I’m not sure I agree with that because that’s more the Larry Brown trajectory, than D’Antoni’s.  When he’s been good and given a transformed team (his first year in Phoenix after acquiring Nash and his first year with the Knicks), they’ve come out of the gate solid.  When the team’s come out weak and he does tampering, as with last year, they tend to suck.  Even the season in Phoenix when they traded for Shaq mid-season, the transition was smooth and pretty quick despite the Big Cactus seeming antithetical to D’Antoni’s system.  So if the Knicks are gonna be decent this year, they’ll most likely start out that way.

Lastly, since Amar’e, Anthony Randolph and a few other key cogs aren’t known for their defense, I’m not sure we’d be better this upcoming season with a defensive-minded Van Gundy-esque coach (although I will always love Jeffy and would jizz in my pants if he returned to coach us).  With the squad we have, a D’Antoni or Don Nelson-type would have the best luck in making the team competitive.  Basically, what it comes down to is that while most Knick fans would probably give Walsh several points of deduction for hiring D’Antoni, I can’t give a grade until I see how this season goes.   Incomplete.

Subtotal = 0

Summer 2008 – Coming Up With Long Term Plan Of Clearing Cap Space For Summer 2010 Run

With the odd exception of the 2004 Pistons, every championship team has had at least one phenomenal player.  Assuming the goal is to win a championship, then duh, you need to get a top player.  How do you do it?  Three options: 1. Trades, 2. The Draft, and 3.Free agency.  Trades would be a hard way to go because we didn’t have many useable trading pieces.  Really Jamal Crawford was the only player who other teams might’ve been interested in, and since he’d never made it to the playoffs, many were concerned he was one of those proverbial guys-who-can-only-put-up-lots-of-points-on-a-bad-team.  Other players like Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James had such huge contracts that they seemed untradeable, and thus miles away from the types who could be combined together and traded for a stud.  So the trade possibility was out.

The problem with the draft route is that while you sometimes luck into a phenom like Kobe Bryant later on (chosen back at #13 in the draft), for the most part you need a top five pick.  And even then there’s some luck, so really you need a few years of top five picks.  Which means you need to really, really suck.  And hey, this might work for the Sacramento Kings who after lucking into Tyreke Evans last season, they could potentially have another Rookie Of The Year winner in DeMarcus Cousins.  One issue with New York doing that was Isiah’d already traded away some of our first rounders.  Second, Isiah’d acquired enough “talent” that we were too good to be awful (but would never be good enough to be more than decent), so we wouldn’t get a top five pick.  Third, New Yorkers don’t like losing, so it would’ve been hard to sell them on the we’re-gonna-suck-purposely-for-a-few-years-so-we-can-get-better-draft-picks-and-hopefully-one-of-them-will-be-good-and-if-not-we’ll-just-keep-sucking-until-we-finally-get-someone-good-even-though-teams-like-the-Clippers-have-done-this-for-years-and-never-managed-to-get-a-genuine-stud-until-last-year-when-they-finally-got-Blake-Griffin-but-hey-they-only-had-to-endure-73-years-of-bad-basketball-in-the-process-and-the-dude-still-has-yet-to-play-an-NBA-game-so-he-might-not-even-count-if-he-goes-down-again-and-again-Greg-Oden-style.

However… Walsh sorta lucked out with his timing, because it was much easier to convince New Yorkers to deal with two years of losing for a very concrete light at the end of the tunnel: LeBron James.  Since Shaq came into the league, there hasn’t been a player who so clearly seems like he’ll definitely win a championship at some point.  And not only was this guy gonna be available in two years, but the dude loved New York, flirted with New York, and refused to verbally commit long-term to Cleveland.  If LeBron had said, as Dwayne Wade did, that he most likely would stay in Cleveland, there’s no way that New Yorkers would’ve put up with all the deliberate losing just for an off-chance at maybe Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer or Amar’e (particularly since Boozer could’ve opted to be a free agent a year earlier, and Amar’e could’ve opted to not become a free agent until next summer).  I mean even with us knowing that these two past seasons weren’t important, every Knick fan griped about how awful the team was and, again, how awful Coach D’Antoni was.  You didn’t hear much griping by Sacramento’s fan base about their coach, and that’s cuz they accepted that they were gonna suck this past season and they’re all about the future.  Meaning, I think Walsh chose the best and only intelligent route he could’ve chosen.

Another side effect that I initially liked was that we were sucking enough that it seemed like even if we struck out in free agency we then might be crappy enough to get some great lottery picks.  Which is why I was a bit annoyed when, in order to get rid of Jeffries, Walsh went all in and gave Houston our 2012 pick plus the ability to swap 2011 first-rounders.  I mean if we’d gone the way of New Jersey and ended up empty-handed, we would’ve had a shot at top draft picks for the next two summers.  Luckily we got Amar’e, but if we hadn’t, and then we sucked and had given away our draft picks, Walsh would’ve been hated more fiercely than Isiah.  Hmm, now I’m thinking I should’ve given him even more than -1 for that trade.  Wait, wait, but this part here is just about whether Walsh chose a smart long-term strategy (not to mention that many GMs/Presidents don’t even seem to have a long-term strategy).  I say definitely, positively, yes.  +3

Subtotal = +3

———————————

I could try to go into how Walsh has fared with his hiring of behind-the-scenes personnel like Alan Houston, but honestly, it’s too hard to measure that from the outside.  I mean I give him thumbs up for being opposed to re-hiring Isiah Thomas, but everyone in the world except for James “Tiberius” Dolan was opposed to the move, so it’s hard to give a guy points for believing something obvious like the sky is blue.  I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting, and hopefully people will note those things in the comment section below, but for now this is it.  The summary then of his score:

Drafting = 0

Trading = +3

Free Agency = +3

General/Other = +3

For a nice overall score of +9.

As I said in the intro to this piece, obviously this number can go up or down significantly depending on what happens in the future, but that’s where I’d put him at for now.  It’d be fun to rate Isiah in the same specific manner as this examining his every move, but I’m not sure negative numbers go that low…

Topics: Amar'e Stoudemire, Donnie Walsh, Isiah Thomas, Jamal Crawford, Larry Brown, LeBron James, Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix Suns, Zach Randolph

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