The New York Knicks' pug-faced owner James Dolan slapped on his infamous, mischievous, Joker-faced grin, laced up a pair of sharp-toed cowboy boots, got off to a running start and roundhouse-kicked each of his loyal fans in the face yet again today with a press release stating that team president and GM Donnie Walsh would be leaving his role with the team at the end of June, when his contract with the team expires:
"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...at the end of June.
"In a relatively short time with the Knicks, Donnie made a tremendous impact, which will be felt for many years to come. We thank Donnie for his leadership, hard work and many contributions to the revitalization of the team."
In a 1:30 p.m. press conference today, Walsh stated that he wasn't willing to take on a multi-year commitment (tweets via Newsday's Alan Hahn) to the Knicks and that his age and energy were concerns.
However, the New York Daily News' Frank Isola reports that James Dolan was willing to bring back Walsh as long as he took a 40 percent pay cut (Hahn is reporting $5 million to $2 million). Dolan also asked Walsh to submit a potential replacement GM list two months ago.
The speculation on what actually occurred between Dolan and Walsh, and who eventually will take over for the man who singlehandedly resurrected the Knicks from the basketball graveyard, is fascinating but largely irrelevant for the health of the Knicks franchise.
Dolan's meaningless, soulless words to describe Walsh's tenure here (tremendous impact...for many years to come) in the second paragraph of that monotone statement are what Knicks fans need to focus on right now. The power-hungry broker has truthfully been in charge since stepping in as the team's owner in 1999; Knicks fans have seen coaches, stars and executives chewed up and spit out like Skoal tobacco as the decrepit structure collapsed around Dolan.
Does it truthfully matter who is running the on-court product, and how well the team is doing, as long as everyone knows who is making the "big impact" for years to come? Is Dolan just a power-hungry broker who cares more about the bottom line, and who is running the show at the Garden, than whether his team is winning games?
Yes, but more on that in a minute. To understand what occurred today in a better light, we need to go back to 2006.
The worst team in the James Dolan era unequivocally played in the 2005-06 season. With Isiah Thomas stoically presiding over matters in the half-court hallway, Larry Brown and Stephon Marbury constantly fighting and a total of 19 players (20 if you count Allan Houston's contract), seven of whom were lottery picks, suiting up for the team, this train wreck finished 23-59. Without a doubt, it was the worst professional basketball team big money could buy, as the Knicks still had the biggest payroll in the league.
After that season, a small group of disgusted Knicks fans had enough. Led by a man only known as Mr. Orange, who created the website selltheknicks.com, a group of over 30 Knicks fans—accompanied by a police escort, no less—screamed and shouted for James Dolan to sell the Knicks and fire Isiah Thomas, marching from the Mercury Bar in Hell's Kitchen to Madison Square Garden on NBA draft night. The raucous protest never met its intended wish, of course, but it did attract the attention of all major media outlets.
Almost five years later, Selena Roberts' June 2006 New York Times piece regarding the event personifies James Dolan and why Knicks fans will never see a title so long as he is the owner. Below is an excerpt:
Imagine if [James Dolan] could grow up from the petty owner consumed with protecting his ''Lucky Star-bury'' to a manager aware of his shortcomings as a personnel whiz.
''I've a huge ego and I need to change,'' Madonna said in her 2005 documentary. ''Knowing is the beginning.''
Good advice for Dolan. He is very attentive to power brokers. So he must have been absorbed in the charity exhibited by his fellow billionaire [Warren Buffett].
''I don't believe in dynastic wealth,'' Buffett said.
Even more excellent wisdom for the charmed offspring of Cablevision. Just think of the possibilities if Dolan could display a giving, egoless management style.
''If Dolan could just keep paying the bills and take a more laissez-faire approach,'' said a man known only as Mr. Orange, the protest organizer who started the Web site selltheknicks.com. ''It would be much like it was when he first got control of the team from Daddy.''
To turn back time, Dolan would have to entrust all of his oversight duties to a respected figure in basketball, someone like Jerry West.
As asinine as it may sound, Dolan hasn't taken Selena Roberts' advice through Madonna, though he should have. He still has that massive ego and hasn't changed. That egoless management style advice he could take from Warren Buffett? Sure wasn't on hand when he meddled in the Carmelo Anthony deal and mortgaged the entire franchise. The team's knight in shining armor—the respected figure in basketball Selena Roberts referenced in her piece five years ago—just walked out the door.
The New York Knicks are miles better than that 23-59 team of five years ago, but a 42-40 team is still miles upon miles away from the championship banner. Knicks fans can talk all they want about acquiring the next piece for their own Big Three, but when the man is charge is more concerned about his public power and image, the product on the floor is bound to suffer.
(And when you let the smartest guy in the room walk out the door, the chances of your team being shrewd enough to pull off moves for Dwight Howard or Chris Paul drop exponentially. That's another article entirely though.)
As the Knicks' train keeps traveling its circuitous route, one can't help but think of how far they are from the 1969-70 Knicks, the greatest team in franchise history. During 1969, legendary artists Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel recorded their hit "The Boxer," and you can find this line in the song that personifies the city's team: "After changes upon changes, we are more or less the same. After changes, we are more or less the same."
Whether the Knicks go 23-59 with Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry or 42-40 with Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, after changes upon changes in personnel, the New York Knicks are still the same: sans title since 1973 with a brash, blind and brute owner who is conducting a train to nowhere.