New York Knicks: 5 Musts to Ensure Success in Post-Donnie Walsh Era
When news initially broke that Donnie Walsh would not return to his post as the president of the New York Knicks, most Knicks fans were shocked. Immediately, we began to hear the doom and gloom scenarios regarding the Knicks inevitable regression into mediocrity.
Certainly, the news of his departure stung, as everyone in the basketball world fully realizes and acknowledges that Donnie Walsh led the Knicks back to respectability after a decade of futility and mismanagement.
I fully realize, however, that the New York Knicks front office, as currently constituted, lacks the track record of success that should give Knicks fans "optimism by default."
Instead, fans should hope that Interim General Manager Glen Grunwald and his inherited Assistant General Manager, Allan Houston can lead the way and convince the rest of the power brokers at 2 Penn Plaza to follow these five ideals.
Doing so could make all the difference in the world and ultimately determine whether Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are eventually able to bring New York City its first NBA championship in 40 years.
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Continue to Be a First Class Organization
One thing that everyone in New York agreed on was that Donnie Walsh is a classy man that represented the organization well.
From the way he handled the firing of Isiah Thomas (and his subsequent rehiring), to his treatment and candor with the media and even his agreeing to buy Corey Brewer out of the final three months of his contract since the Knicks knew he wasn't a part of their future, Donnie has tried to do right by everyone.
Often, these simple things go unrecognized and sometimes criticized. However, the casual basketball fan doesn't fully understand that players, coaches and agents all speak to one another.
If a particular team or executive has a reputation for being illogical, weak or inept, that will reflect poorly on the organization and possibly adversely affect its interests.
Another shining example of Donnie being Donnie was that Donnie never suggested to the media that Jim Dolan was the driver behind the Carmelo Anthony trade or that the main reason why he withdrew himself from his contract negotiations with Jim Dolan was because Dolan reneged on a few key clauses that Donnie insisted upon.
The man simply has too much class to throw his boss under the bus or otherwise air dirty laundry in public.
Anyone that knows Donnie would describe him as a class act, and those are the types of guys that garner respect. More importantly, they are the type of guys that other potential difference makers would want to associate with. That shouldn't be overlooked.
Reputations precede you, and good management will help the Knicks recruit scouts and coaches, as well as free agents.
So, let's hope Grunwald learned a thing or two by watching Donnie operate.
Take Low Risk Chances
Shawne Williams is an example of a low risk chance that worked out in the Knicks favor. At worst, he is a rotation player that is a great three-point shooter and a very capable man to man defender.
In fact, he was the most reliable low post defender for the Knicks last season.
However, the acquisitions of others such as Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens, Sergio Rodriguez, Roger Mason and Andy Rautins all have something in common: They were all low risk moves that were either easily be undone or not prohibitively expensive.
As a general manager in the NBA, it's not about whether or not you make a mistake, it's more so about how long your franchise and your fans have to pay for that mistake.
The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, will continue to pay Elton Brand more than $35 million over the next two years to be their third best power forward. Similarly, the Orlando Magic have Gilbert Arenas and his one good knee on their payroll for three more years in excess of $60 million.
For the Knicks, inviting Bonzi Wells, Joe Alexander and Javaris Crittenton to a try out, as well as targeting undrafted rookies to whom they would like to extend camp invites show a pattern of low risk chances.
At best, they might give someone—like Shawne Williams—a second chance and find out that they have the ability to be an effective rotation player in the NBA, and at worst—like Sergio Rodriguez—find out that the player doesn't have what it takes and let them walk once their not so long contract expires.
Indeed, making low risk moves that may pay dividends in the long run is something that the Knicks can master in an attempt to mitigate the fact that they have not done a stellar job with lottery picks.
Donnie Walsh has shown that he is willing to kick over a few stones en route to finding players to help Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Knicks fans should hope that the new regime of leadership will follow Donnie's lead and continue to search for help in every crevice.
That might be the difference between winning the NBA's ultimate prize or ending up like the Atlanta Hawks. That is, stuck in mediocrity with no real means to improve as a team and contend for the championship.
Be Sure You're Employing the Right Coach
In yet another previous piece, the subject of whether Mike D'Antoni was the "right fit" for this team was addressed.
In short, the verdict was that it's simply too soon to say. Without rewriting that piece, the truth of the matter is that Coach D'Antoni has not had the same rotation to begin and end any of his three full seasons as the head coach of the New York Knicks.
Mike's critics will argue and say that despite this, he should have done a better job developing a defensive gameplan and even a more structured offense. Although that might be true, it is still difficult to expect a coach to do a great job when he has to constantly deal with trade rumors, speculation and an ever changing rotation.
But that begs one obvious question: If it's too early to judge Mike now, when when will be appropriate?
Answer: How about after the team plays 30 more games?
Unfortunately, we don't know when that will be since the NBA locked its players out as of July 1, 2011.
More importantly, though, is that Coach D'Antoni has a lot to prove and he will probably be the next in line to go if the Knicks do not continue to show some evident progress.
And he's no fool; he knows this, too. That's probably why the talks of him hiring a defensive assistant became so much more serious in the days immediately following the announcement that Donnie would not return.
At this time, it is important for the new Knicks brass to hold Mike accountable and demand greatness from him. Few ever believed that Donnie Walsh would have fired him...But with Donnie no longer in the picture, Mike is less secure.
Certainly, this is not meant to disparage Mike D'Antoni or suggest—at least, not now—that he deserves to be fired. However, if the New York Knicks are to be successful, they need a coach and a game plan that will figure out how to get the most out of the talent currently on the roster, especially the tandem of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
If, after a reasonable opportunity with a stagnant roster, Mike's philosophy does not work for this team and these characters, Glen Grunwald and company cannot be afraid to cut him loose.
Stop Trading Draft Picks; Instead, Use Them Wisely
If there is one knock on Donnie during his tenure in New York, it would be his draft record. Any disparaging of his selections—which included Danilo Gallinari and Jordan Hill as lottery selections— would do what most that evaluate scouts don't.
That is, judge whether or not a talent evaluator has an eye for talent based on whether better players were selected after a specific pick.
("Donnie isn't a great drafter! He chose Gallo over Eric Gordon, and Gordon is better!")
In other words, rather than focusing on the truth, which is that about 75 percent of first-round picks won't enjoy long careers as starters in the NBA, neighsayers use faulty logic and compare one pick to another in a specific draft, rather than focus on the totality of one's selections and draw sensible conclusions.
In other words, look at it another way: Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and Landry Fields are all quality NBA players and should be pros on Donnie's resume.
Nonetheless, the jury will be deliberating on Donnie's draft prowess until we actually see what Iman Shumpert and Josh Harrelson are able to accomplish as professionals. They will tip the scales in one direction or another.
But enough of that, here is an important fact:
In order to become a championship team in the NBA, this is almost a guarantee, you must excel in evaluating talent and drafting.
Case in point: There have been 25 NBA Finals MVPs named over the past 25 years. That's obvious. It is also obvious that there are quite a few individuals that won the award multiple times.
Here's the part that isn't obvious. In 21 out of those 25 times, the NBA Finals MVP was an individual that was drafted by the winning team. That's indicative of a necessity of drafting well to win, isn't it?
(For the record, the exceptions are Chauncey Billups (2004) and Shaquille O'Neal (2000-02)).
Also, no team has ever really "free ageneted" its way to a championship. Shaq may have been a free agent, but he had Kobe, whom the Lakers traded for a draft day, so that's tantamount to drafting him. Chauncey Billups had a unique cast of talent in Detroit which included a native draft pick in Tayshaun Prince.
Based on that evidence, there is little reason to believe that the Knicks can be successful in the post Donnie Walsh era unless they make wise decisions with their draft picks (as in, not trading them) and select young players who one day become integral cogs on winning teams.
Continue to Manage the Cap Wisely
No long story necessary here...With the league's owners deciding to lock its players out as of 12 a.m. on July 1, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that when it's all said and done, we will be facing a more restrictive salary cap system.
How much more restrictive remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, one thing that has been unique about the NBA's cap rules is that contracts of players that are bought out or even retired have continued to count against a team's payroll for salary cap purposes. With a new, more restrictive system, the Knicks simply cannot afford to make any mistakes or overspend.
Fortunately, if there is one thing you cannot accuse Donnie Walsh of doing, is making bad investments in terms of his free agent signings. Obviously, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were his two biggest acquisitions.
Aside from that, Raymond Felton (two years/$16 million) and Timofey Mozgov (three years/$10 million) are the only other players to whom Donnie Walsh gave sizeable money.
Neither was overpaid, and the fact that the Denver Nuggets wanted both of them in exchange for Carmelo Anthony speaks volumes; Denver would not have assumed any bad contracts.
To ensure their continued toiling, the new Knicks brass must make wise investments in players and ensure that the days of mismangement and misspending are truly over.