New York Knicks: 5 Ways Donnie Walsh Has Rebuilt a Shattered Franchise
Donnie Walsh has been nothing short of incredible for the New York Knicks since he became president of basketball operations in April, 2008.
I know, I know, the standards for success weren't really too high when he came in. Walsh took over for Isiah Thomas, who made so many terrible moves in his five years that it makes me sick just thinking about it–so things could only get better from there.
And they did.
Knicks fans had been aching a contender since the days of Patrick Ewing. Actually, the devoted followers of the team would have accepted even just a watchable team. Anything would've been better than the overrated, overpaid, lazy players they were putting out there.
Walsh began the slow, tedious rebuilding process by getting rid of Thomas (who he named head coach of the Indiana Pacers eight years earlier), and never looked back.
He waited out unwise and useless contracts, signed key players, made smart trades and hired competent staff.
Perhaps the most accomplishing task he has performed is enduring New York fans, New York media and worst of all: James Dolan.
No matter who Walsh selects in a draft, fans will boo. He was badgered daily about when he would finally acquire Carmelo Anthony. He fixed a broken organization, only to be ran out of town by an idiotic owner.
Clearly, Walsh has put up with more than your average GM could handle.
Now, as he leaves, let's look back on the highlights of how Donnie Walsh repaired the years of what felt like irreversible damage.
Hiring Mike D'Antoni
Mike D'Antoni can palm an invisible ball.
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As the Knicks head into their first full season with the combination of Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, it seems like the right time to get rid of Mike D'Antoni.
However, when they were rebuilding in 2008, this was the best hiring Walsh could've made.
D'Antoni's offense is flashy and fast-paced. It inflates players' statistics and doesn't do much in the way of defense, but it sure is thrilling to watch.
When the Knicks began the 2009-2010 season with mostly below-average to average players, D'Antoni's system added an extra ingredient that made this team somewhat exciting–even though they remained irrelevant to the rest of the league.
Led by David Lee, this hopeful Knicks squad finished with just 29 wins; but we knew things were headed in the right direction.
A perfect example of a player made successful by D'Antoni's offense is the tiny point guard, Nate Robinson.
Robinson averaged 9.3 points per game in his rookie season, and then averaged over 10 in each of his next four seasons with the Knicks. He even reached 17.2 points per game in the 2008-2009 season.
Since he was traded, and after he badmouthed the team for holding him back, Robinson hasn't even reached seven points per game.
But while Nate was a Knick, I was happy.
We had a system that turned decent players into stars, and New York was content with that for the time being.
Trading Bad Players with Long Contracts
Eddy Curry sucks.
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I used a photo of Eddy Curry here because nobody took any pictures of Jerome James.
In a poor attempt to add valuable big men in 2005, Thomas signed James to a $29 million deal over five years.
It's hard to pick the worst move of Isiah's time with the Knicks–it might be harder than a parent singling out who their favorite child is. But if you put a gun to my head, Jerome James would be it.
James was with the team from the 2005-2006 season to the 2008-2009 season and never averaged more than 3.1 points per game, or 2.1 rebounds per game.
In November, 2008, Walsh shed long term deals that were fundamental in obtaining their future stars.
First, he traded Jamal Crawford to the Warriors for Al Harrington. Not only did this open up space to chase LeBron James and other talented players in the Summer 2010 sweepstakes, but Harrington proved to be an exciting and talented player at the Garden.
The same day Walsh got rid of Crawford, he also traded the lethargic Zach Randolph to the Los Angeles Clippers for Cuttino Mobley.
Randolph's contract paid him $17.3 million in 2010-2011, which would've made it impossible for the Knicks to build a well-rounded team.
It was a little later than most had hoped, but Walsh also was able to find a destination for Eddy Curry in Minnesota in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Donnie bided his time wisely, and patiently got rid of every contract that haunted the Knicks over the previous decade.
Signing Amar'e Stoudemire
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"No doubt about it, I'm better than Chris Bosh."
While Stoudemire was reviving the Garden, Bosh was garnering the most ridicule a team has ever received as the third wheel of what was rarely Miami Thrice and often looked like Two and a Half Men.
Walsh gave the forward/center $100 million over five years–a max contract.
For the first time in a while, it finally felt like a long-term deal with big money was going in the right direction.
Many doubted STAT's abilities, as his back, knees and even one of his eyes has caused him to miss significant time in the past.
The two most dangerous areas to injure for an athlete in just about any sport are their back and knees, so it was (and still very much is) a cause for concern.
However, until his back spasms in the playoffs, Amar'e made it through his inaugural season without getting hurt.
The goggle-sporting star put the team on his injured back, and became a locker room leader the minute he inked his contract.
His stats were as stellar as ever, averaging 25.3 points per game and 8.2 boards on the season, leading the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time since George W. Bush and John Kerry were vying for the U.S. presidency.
Success Signing and Drafting Key Role Players
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Donnie Walsh hasn't been perfect in the NBA Draft, but can you name a GM who has?
With the Knicks, his only true failure during the draft was selecting Jordan Hill in 2009. Ideally, Brandon Jennings would've been the pick, but these things happen.
He's made several successful picks, some in the first round and some sleepers in the second. Danilo Gallinari was a fan favorite in New York, with such a huge Italian population, and his endearing nickname as "the Rooster". Also, he was a deadly shooter–and D'Antoni can never have too many shooters.
Landry Fields was taken in the second round, where quality starters are few and far between. Averaging just under 10 points per game and shooting just under 50 percent, Fields was a solid rookie and an efficient all-around player.
After botching the Jordan Hill pick, Walsh recovered in the very same draft by trading for the rights to Toney Douglas, who often relieves Billups, and is one of the best defensive players on the team.
Along with the Stoudemire acquisition this past offseason, Walsh made several other constructive signings.
Raymond Felton, who was arguably the Charlotte Bobcats' best player in his time with the team, was the biggest of them.
The former Tar Heel averaged 17.1 points per game and over nine dimes in his short stint with the Knicks. After Rose and Rondo, Felton was the best point guard in the East for the first half of the season.
Shawne Williams, the little-known forward from Memphis, was signed for under a million dollars for last season, and was deadly at hitting threes from the corner. He spreads the floor incredibly well, and hopefully he is re-signed as soon as the lockout is solved.
Timofey Mozgov was another great pickup by Walsh.
The Russian center was often frustrating at the beginning of the season, but gradually adjusted to the American game.
If the Knicks were to draw the line in their February trade, it should've been at Mozgov. Which brings us to...
Trading for Carmelo Anthony
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"I'm coming home, I'm coming home..."
Carmelo's anthem, which made for my second favorite Knicks video on YouTube (after this), truly meant that the Knicks were back.
Not since Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe were paired up, winning the 1973 NBA Finals, have the Knicks had such a dangerous duo.
Anthony's idol, Bernard King, was one of the best to ever play the game, but he wasn't given a second star to make those teams great.
The same happened with Ewing, where the Knicks had a great supporting cast filled with the best role players, such as John Starks, Charles Oakley, Allan Houston, Charlie Ward, Larry Johnson and Anthony Mason.
Each of those players had a vast impact on the proud Knicks of the '90s, but they were just missing that second star.
Patrick admitted himself, "'They're not Carmelo,' Ewing said, laughing. 'They're not Carmelo.'"
Jordan had another star by his side, Magic had one, Bird had one–very few winning teams haven't.
It's true, Walsh (forced by Dolan) handed over a lot of useful pieces to make this trade happen. Still, this trade was all too necessary.
With a third big name in Chauncey Billups, and role players in Landry Fields, Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and hopefully the new kid, Iman Shumpert, the Knicks' only large roster flaw is a strong starting center.
No matter how you look at it, the Knicks have returned as an Eastern Conference contender; and none of this would've been possible without Donnie Walsh. He will be missed.