Donnie Walsh is stepping down as the New York Knicks’ president of basketball operations after a three-year tenure that turned a struggling franchise into a playoff team led by All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
Walsh and team owner James Dolan mutually agreed that he would serve as a team consultant for the 2011-12 National Basketball Association season, Dolan said in an e-mailed statement.
Walsh, 70, said today that the decision was based on his unwillingness to commit beyond one year. Saddled with health problems that kept him in a wheelchair for part of last season, he said he had lost the energy to do the job, although his health now is good. His departure takes effect at the end of this month.
“I didn’t think I could do it over a multiyear period,” Walsh said on a conference call. “I don’t know that I’m up to being here that much longer, I don’t know that he wants to wait or should wait.”
Walsh said he likely would have accepted a one-year deal, which was complicated by the possibility of a work stoppage as the NBA and its players negotiate a new labor contract.
“Because of the uncertainty of next year, that would be a windfall for me and it wouldn’t be fair to the franchise,” Walsh said.
Glen Grunwald, the Knicks’ senior vice president of basketball operations, will serve as the team’s general manager on an interim basis, beginning in July. The club doesn’t have a timetable for making a full-time hire, according to the statement.
“In a relatively short time with the Knicks, Donnie made a tremendous impact, which will be felt for many years to come,” Dolan said in the statement.
Walsh stepped down as president and chief executive officer of the Indiana Pacers in March 2008, signing a three-year contract to join the Knicks, who had missed the postseason for seven straight years.
The team continued to struggle over the next two campaigns as Walsh shed player salaries in anticipation of a free-agent class a year ago that included All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Stoudemire.
While James, Wade and Bosh chose to team up with the Miami Heat, Stoudemire joined the Knicks, who later landed Anthony in a February trade with Denver. New York went 42-40 last season, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2004, before being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round.
Whether Walsh would continue with the Knicks after his contract expired this month has been in question since last summer, when, according to the New York Daily News, Dolan asked former team president and coach Isiah Thomas to make a pitch to James to join the team.
Other media reports said he disagreed with Dolan about signing Anthony and that the owner had sought advice from Thomas about that move, taking the decision out of Walsh’s hands. Walsh repeatedly denied those reports at the time and said today that neither autonomy over personnel decisions nor Thomas’s relationship with Dolan played any role in his contract negotiations.
He said he had a good relationship with Thomas and “basically had a good relationship with Jim.”
“He treated me very well,” Walsh said. “I never could understand reports that he wasn’t or that we didn’t get along.”
Walsh was hired to replace Thomas, who had been fired as the Knicks’ president and coach. Thomas, now the coach at Florida International University, was rehired in August as a consultant to the Knicks before deciding not to take the job after he said it had “become apparent” the appointment violated NBA rules regarding his status as a college coach.
Walsh said he was content with his own performance in three seasons attempting to revive the franchise.
“I loved the challenge of trying to bring this team back, and I think I did that,” he said. “I think I did the first step of that, but there are more steps to go.”
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