Just when you thought Fred Wilpon had cornered the market on owners behaving badly, James Dolan pops up to remind you that he invented the game.
After weeks of waiting to make a decision, Dolan announced Friday that Donnie Walsh will not be returning as the president of the Knicks next season. Walsh's contract runs out at the end of June and his tenure running the team will come to an end at the same time.
"Following a long series of discussions regarding his future role with the New York Knicks, Donnie Walsh and I have mutually agreed that he will be leaving his position as president, basketball operations of the Knicks, at the end of June,” Dolan said in a statement released by the team. “Donnie will remain with the team as a consultant for the 2011-12 season. In a relatively short time with the Knicks, Donnie made a tremendous impact, which will be felt for many years to come."
The news comes as something of a surprise because all signs have been pointing to a Walsh return for at least one more season at the helm of the team. At the same time, it is hard to raise an eyebrow anymore about a decision made by Dolan that runs counter to the team's best interests.
During his three years at the top of the food chain, Walsh got the Knicks out of salary cap hell and put many of the pieces in place that helped the team land Carmelo Anthony and make the playoffs last season. Fissures in his relationship started to show up during the pursuit of Anthony (although Walsh said Friday the decision to pull the trigger was all his), but it seemed like the two sides were close to finding a way to make things work before Friday's announcement.
Walsh backed up Dolan's statement about it being a mutual agreement during a conference call on Friday afternoon by saying that he wasn't able to commit to a multi-year deal because of his age and health. He also said that he loved his time with the Knicks, that autonomy was not an issue and "basically" had a good relationship with Dolan during his years on the job.
Walsh did say that he would have considered staying one more year and that he has discussed possible candidates with Dolan before they agreed to part ways. It is hard to understand why those two things wouldn't just keep the status quo in place for another year while a succession plan was put into place, but it it is also hard to accept that there's nothing more to this move than what Dolan and Walsh have said on Friday.
Pieces of what might have been left outhave started filtering to the surface and we'll likely never know the entire story that brought us to this point. All that's left is to figure out where things go from here.
Glen Grunwald will take over the job on an interim basis while the team starts a search for a replacement. There are certainly some interesting candidates out there -- former Blazers honchos Kevin Pritchard and Rich Cho come to mind -- but it is hard not to see the undercurrents of the man whose name makes Knicks fans retch in this decision.
If you find a Knicks fan that isn't holding their breath about Isiah Thomas right now you just won a big prize. Walsh said he doesn't think Isiah was involved, but Thomas, a man Dolan said will always be an advisor, is looming over this whole thing, starting with the fact that Grunwald was hired by Isiah in both Toronto and New York.
As well as Walsh sold his flagging energy and inability to commit to the long haul, the Isiah ghost will keep on looming unless and until the Knicks hire another guy to run the show who has no ties to Thomas and who has a strong record at building a winning team. Walsh had those chops and the next guy needs to have them to keep the team pointed in the right direction.
Walsh's departure leaves us to wonder what dominos are next to fall. Mike D'Antoni's future is a lot less secure than it was yesterday, for starters.
There was no explicit mention of his reaction, but it didn't sound like the coach was thrilled to learn Walsh wouldn't be around. The mind reels at what other moves could be coming now that chaos has returned to Madison Square Garden.
As a side note, you wonder how many Knicks fans who had to decide about paying higher prices for next season are now experiencing some buyer's remorse with Walsh out of the picture. His work restored much faith in the direction of a franchise that is back to being rudderless at this hour.
The circus is back in town, boys and girls. Why aren't you smiling?