And a high price at that.
It was announced Friday that Donnie Walsh would be stepping down from his duties as the organization's President and GM, and would simply be assuming a consulting role with the Knicks from hereon out.
The news came as a blow to Knicks fans.
After over a month of believing that Walsh was going to return, thus securing the future success of this team, everything seemed to come crashing down.
Amid all the speculation about what is next for the Knicks, both the media and fans are still pondering the same question: Why?
Was it Isiah Thomas’ affiliation to the organization?
Was it Walsh’s refusal to allow James Dolan to have the final say in basketball decisions?
Was it Walsh’s diminishing health?
While all of the aforementioned factors may have come into play, the true motivator behind Walsh’s departure, outside of his direct relationship with Dolan, was the Knicks' pursuit of creating a Miami Heat-like roster.
This of course refers to the concept of a “big three,” where a team hopes their sheer amount of all-star caliber players overwhelms the opposition into submission.
So while we can attribute Walsh’s departure to his health or the reality that Thomas is still a part of this organization, we need look no further than LeBron James’ influence and prospective free agents Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, to find the true answer to our question.
How was it that the Knicks' pursuit of a super-team was the beginning of the end for Walsh’s tenure with New York?
It all goes back to last summer.
The plan all along was to convince James and one other top tier free agent to lead the resurgence of the Knicks. When it became clear that James was not a lock to join New York like most originally believed, the Knicks went out and inked Amar’e Stoudemire to further entice the self-proclaimed king.
While Stoudemire’s production this season proved such efforts were not fruitless, New York ultimately missed out on its opportunity to land James.
What turned out to be even more painful though, was watching the Heat accomplish what the Knicks could not, in a more extravagant fashion. Standing idly by as Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James all teamed up in South Beach was more than unbearable for the Knicks and their fan base.
Enter Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.
Not long after the superstar trio formed in Miami, Paul gave a toast at Anthony’s wedding that proclaimed Stoudemire, Anthony and himself would form their own all-star triage in New York.
Although Paul publicly stated he was joking, the idea was born and implanted in the heads of not only Knicks fans, but their owner as well.
And the rest is history.
Walsh pursued Anthony for the better part of this past season, but talks with Denver were at a stalemate because Walsh refused to give up so much for a player he could sign over the Summer.
In the end though, Dolan intervened and Walsh gave up way more than he wanted to obtain Anthony. It was then that rumors of Thomas’ continued influence over the Knicks owner, and the real possibility of Walsh’s departure first began.
However, after a disappointing postseason, the Knicks were left questioning their super-team concept’s potential, and all inclinations seemed that Walsh was going to stay.
And that brings us to now. Walsh is officially out; do not let the consulting reports fool you.
The reality is that Walsh was not enthusiastic about forming a super-team. Walsh wanted to put pieces around Anthony and Stoudemire that would compliment them, but the Knicks current blueprint involved acquiring one more star.
Is the prospect of adding either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard worth the risk the Knicks took letting Donnie Walsh walk?
Sure, Walsh was all for the big three idea when it involved signing all three of them, and not have to relinquish assets, but after the bittersweet taste of the Anthony trade, he had had enough. Publicly, he has stated he supported the Anthony trade, but we know better.
Walsh originally was only willing to give up Wilson Chandler and draft picks in exchange for Anthony, so no way does he suddenly decide to add Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov to the docket.
No, Walsh preferred to wait to sign Anthony via free agency, but like all true professionals, he publicly supported the organization. And after the Anthony trade, all indications were that Walsh was focused on adding a few stellar pieces around Stoudemire and Anthony, rather than continuing the roster explosion and chase after another star.
For awhile, it seemed that the rest of the organization agreed. Reports surfaced that Dolan gave Walsh full control over all basketball decisions, and it seemed that the Knicks were opting to add a few significant pieces to the mix, rather than one superstar pillar.
But now, with Walsh’s departure, we know the recent rumors involving the Knicks rekindled interest in Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and the unexpected interest in Dwight Howard is more than a rumor; It is truth.
The super-team concept has paid large dividends to the Heat in only their first season together, evident by the fact that they are in the NBA Finals. And Miami’s success has many fans, and Dolan, seeing championships as well as dollar signs.
One is even inclined to believe that Walsh knew all along this day was coming. The Knicks gave away all of their prized young assets to obtain Anthony, which was more than a warning sign. A team does not mortgage its future unless they have a very specific end goal.
All along Walsh maintained his top priority was not to blow up the Knicks’ roster to obtain only a handful of players. However, all along, Dolan has taken the “whatever it takes to build a superstar powerhouse” approach.
Those two mindsets not only don’t compliment each other, but they clash. And clash Walsh and Dolan did.
It wasn’t just front office personnel policies and decisions that put them odds. It was the Carmelo Anthony trade and the future of this Knicks team.
Will Howard or Paul be on the Knicks next season? And if so, at what cost?
No one knows for sure.
But we do know one thing: Walsh is out.
The rest won’t be determined until next season and beyond, when we either watch the Knicks basically as is with a few added pieces, or with the addition of either Paul or Howard.
Even if Paul or Howard comes to New York, anything less than a championship would force us to reconsider the Knicks current direction, and ponder if it was all worth it.
New York took a huge risk mortgaging their future in the Anthony trade. But they took an even bigger one by letting Walsh leave, thereby suggesting that his ideology surrounding this Knicks team was inferior to the super-team vision.
So, as the Knicks and their fans watch the future unfold, they need to hope that the super-team concept is not only feasible, but also worth the risk.
Regardless of who the Knicks must relinquish to obtain Paul or Howard, and who they have already given up to obtain Anthony, Walsh will forever remain the most significant piece of collateral damage this saga has claimed.
There is a reason why fans and players are mourning his departure. Walsh possesses a sense of team-managing genius that Isiah Thomas couldn’t hope to match even on his best day.
With Walsh at the helm, even if the Knicks did not have a set direction, the future felt secure. But now, New York will find itself encompassed by uncertainty, and unanswerable questions.
Walsh was a pure strategist, who was willing to get his hands dirty and do what is necessary to build a winner. Now the Knicks’ future lies in the hands of the pending CBA and an array of prospective free agents and trade acquisitions.
And while the Walsh saga has come to a close, the debacle surrounding the Knicks’ future is only just beginning.
Risks and sacrifices are all a part of building a championship caliber team. But the Knicks took an unorthodox approach by sacrificing a winner in their pursuit of becoming a winner.
Just as they did with LeBron, the Knicks have once again put the fate of their team in the hands of players who don’t don New York orange and blue.
So, is the prospect of adding either Paul or Howard worth the price of losing Walsh, or is this move destined to backfire and thrust the Knicks back into the pitfalls of losing for another decade?
Only time, and a championship fulfillment or heartbreak, will tell.