The Donnie Walsh Debate Heats Up

Is this guy Tom Ziller serious? I was flabbergasted when I scrolled through my Twitter feed this morning to find a link to this piece of garbage over on SBNation.com. I’ll preface my upcoming rebuke of his piece on why Donnie Walsh may not be so deserving of continuing to control the reigns in the Knicks front office by saying I do not know much about Ziller. By reading his bio, I see that he is an NBA contributor to SBNation and also covers the Sacramento Kings for our rival website. One thing I do know is that he has a serious New York bias for some reason and knows not of what he speaks.

Clearly, we all know about the story that has developed over the past week or so since Howard Beck of the NY Times penned this piece back on January 31st. Donnie Walsh, who has been the driving force behind rescuing the Knicks from the depths of NBA/Isiah Thomas hell the past  2 1/2 years, is in contract limbo. He has an option for 2011-2012 that James Dolan must pick up by April 3oth or his current deal will expire on June 3oth. The enigmatic Knicks owner has not talked to the media in four years and his PR lackeys have given no comment on Walsh’s tenuous contract situation.

Any sane person, of which Dolan is not, began asking, “What the hell is taking so long? Is there really any debate here?”. Then the “Maybe Dolan wants to bring back Isiah Thomas to ruin the franchise again” angle began to garner attention, once again, and Knicks fans of all stripes stepped toward the edge of the cliff that Walsh successfully helped talk them down from.

Since the story gained prominence there have been varying reports about Dolan and his affinity for Isiah and his desire to bring that cursed figure back to run the basketball operations at MSG. A few I saw said Dolan still confides heavily in Thomas and you couldn’t discredit the idea that he would be brazen enough to give his fanbase the middle finger the size of the Empire State Building and rehire Isiah as President. I saw others that said Isiah has been told he will not get his old job. The bottom line is that nobody except Jim Dolan knows what Jim Dolan is thinking, and that is downright scary.

Now on to Ziller’s ridiculous piece on Walsh and why the dude is just dead wrong. Here is a quick summary of Ziller’s reasons why it is not a slam dunk that Donnie should be retained:

Ziller asks: “Has he even done that good of a job?”. His point being that Walsh has gained so much reverence from local media types because they are comparing his results with the disastrous regimes of Scott Layden and Isiah and you or I could have done a better job than those two. He points out that “you can’t grade Walsh against Isiah when you’re making decisions for the future, because the Knicks aren’t going to turn into Isiah’s Knicks if Walsh leaves.”

I respond: This is utter nonsense. You can and should indeed compare what Walsh has accomplished in relation to those guys, especially Isiah, and in the process give Donnie a whole big heap of credit for cleaning up Thomas’ mess in less than 3 years. This mess not only relates to the awful roster of contracts and characters Isiah strung together, but the disgusting and sordid culture Thomas let run rampant at MSG. How quickly we all forget the humiliation of the Anucha Browne Sanders harassment lawsuit and the $11.6 million settlement Dolan had to pony up because of Isiah’s missteps. Anything like this been present during Walsh’s tenure?

Ziller says: Walsh’s team has a mediocre 26-24 record and his saving grace for being able to upgrade the roster before (Amar’e Stoudemire) and possibly later (Carmelo Anthony) is that he “had lucked into prime geography”, obviously meaning these guys were/are drawn to the Knicks only because of Madison Square Garden and nothing to do with the stage Walsh’s shrewd moves have created.

I respond: Yes, Tom, MSG and New York are certainly advantageous selling points over say…..Sacramento. Yet, there would be no Amar’e Stoudemire averaging 26.3 PPG (good for second in the NBA) and there would be no ability to even be in the Carmelo sweepstakes without the savvy of Donnie Walsh. This guy, who is regarded as basketball royalty to many, was able to use all the relationships and contacts he gathered over the past 30+ years to pawn off Jamal Crawford, Zach Randolph, Jared Jeffries and other Isiah Thomas failed acquisitions in order to get the Knicks under the salary cap for the first time since the Patrick Ewing era. I argue, due to Walsh’s stature amongst basketball executives, there are very few guys that could have accomplished this task.

The results….In comes a franchise player in Amar’e, who has been what we all expected on the court and even more than we could have dreamed as a leader of this young group. Open are now the possibilities of landing Carmelo and being players in the 2012 free agent marketplace which includes Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. Ziller says big, ho hum, big deal. I say, Donnie Walsh is a miracle worker.

Ziller says: Walsh actually was not that successful in the summer of 2010 after working so hard to clear out the trash that Isiah left him with. He quips, “Walsh, after all, did strike out on the very best 2010 free agents. It was reported that his presentation to LeBron James was the worst the King saw.” He goes on to say that the Knicks were then forced to overpay for Stoudemire and the move to bring Raymond Felton in, “a nice point guard with obvious limits” was nothing to be heralded.

I respond: This is Ziller’s most misguided argument yet. Yes it is a fact that Walsh and the Knicks struck out on luring King of Ego James to New York, but then again so did the other teams (Nets, Clippers, Cavs, Bulls) who pursued him. From many accounts after the fact, there was no chance LeBron was coming to New York, no matter what they did and that the forming of the triumvirate of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was in the works many moths before July 1, 2010 rolled around.

Ziller says the Knicks struck out on the best free agents of 2010. I’d argue Stoudemire was the second best free agent available and the Knicks got him. Yes they probably paid more than anyone was willing to offer because of Amar’e history of knee injuries, but what they got was a franchise altering player who actually WANTS to play in New York.

As for Felton, anyone who has watched the majority of Knicks games this season knows what kind of steal he was for the contract Walsh brought him in at (2 years/$15.8 million). Clearly, Felton was being held back in Larry Brown’s system in Charlotte as evidence by his numbers this season (17.2 PPG, 8.9 APG). He is tough as nails and it is apparent he is not afraid of the big stage. The most important number pertaining to Felton is the 2 years attached to his deal. This means, his contact won’t get in the way of possibly being able to sign Paul or Williams after next season. With the way he is playing, I would not be surprised if he is a part of the Knicks future for many years to come.

I haven’t even mentioned drafting Landry Fields in the second round, bringing in 3-point marksman Shawne Williams or plucking the blossoming Timofey Mozgov from Russia as part of Walsh’s stellar resume as Knicks president. So go ahead, Tom Ziller, continue to spout your anti-Knicks/New York bias. Continue to bet against Donnie Walsh. I dare ya.

Tags: Amare Stoudemire Carmelo Anthony Chris Paul Deron Williams Donnie Walsh Dwight Howard Isiah Thomas Jamal Crawford James Dolan Jared Jeffries Landry Fields LeBron James Raymond Felton Shawne Williams Timofey Mozgov Zach Randolph

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