Walsh, D'Antoni still in limbo
By their silence, the Knicks raise questions -- along with the specter of Isiah
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks sent word this morning that Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni are still not yet ready to say anything publicly.
So that makes it roughly 72 hours and counting since the 'Bockers got bounced from the playoffs in four games, and with each additional passing hour the future of the franchise's leadership appears incrementally unsettled.
The Knicks are operating on Jim Dolan's timetable and Jim Dolan's media relations principles, which means he'll settle this when he sees fit and he'll say something about it -- either through a press release or an opening statement at a news conference in which he is unlikely to field questions -- when he sees fit. And if folks don't like that, Dolan truly doesn't care.
Reports have been surfacing since Sunday night that the Knicks and Walsh are considering a two-year extension to the four-year contract (the fourth year is a team option) that Walsh signed in 2008.
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One holdup, a source close to the team told ESPN.com, is that Walsh "wants to be where he is wanted."
And if Walsh is truly wanted in New York, he desires the front office autonomy he was promised when he came aboard, but which was usurped in his mind at various times over the past three years by Dolan's close relationship with former Knicks president and coach Isiah Thomas.
D'Antoni's fate is also unclear, although he will be paid $5 million next season regardless of whether he is working with a stable roster for an entire season for the first time in his four seasons in New York, or whether he is sitting out the season contemplating why he decided to choose the Big Apple over Chicago. (The Bulls are preparing for the second round of the playoffs while simultaneously awaiting word from the NBA office on when the official announcement dates will be for Derrick Rose to be crowned Most Valuable Player and for Tom Thibodeau to be named Coach of the Year.)
If D'Antoni is retained without a contract extension, he will enter his own state of limbo as a lame duck, a status no NBA coach desires because it indicates to all those around him, especially those in the locker room, that he is on thin ice. And if he were to lose the support of any of the Knicks' key players, the organization could make the quickest and least expensive fix possible by pulling the plug.
So while we await word from Madison Square Garden on when/if Walsh and D'Antoni will speak to their futures (it is highly uncommon for any NBA team to keep its coach under a gag order for several days after the conclusion of the season), let's look at three other questions the Knicks will be pondering as they head into the uncertain summer of 2011, in which the possibility of a work stoppage will complicate fulfilling the blueprint for building a championship contending team:
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1. What happens to Chauncey Billups?
The Knicks have until Friday to pick up the $14.2 million option on Billups or pay him a $3.7 million buyout, and Walsh has gone on record as saying the injuries that sidelined Billups for a six-game stretch of the regular season and for the final three playoff games against Boston will have no impact on the decision because neither injury (deep thigh bruise, strained knee) was indicative of a chronic medical condition. The Knicks value Billups' leadership skills, playmaking and shotmaking, and Billups has told them he plans to play five pounds lighter than he has for the past several seasons if the Knicks bring him back to better enable him to get up and down the floor at D'Antoni's preferred pace.
2. Who will play center next season?
Amare Stoudemire listed a big man as the team's No. 1 need in the offseason, and the 2010-11 season demonstrated that when Stoudemire has to play out of position at center to expend energy defending an opposing big man, he is less effective on offense. Ronny Turiaf is under contract for one more season, but he is not a great fit for the team chemistry-wise and is one of the most injury-prone players in the NBA. The Knicks do not want to reduce the cap space they have available for the summer of 2012 free agent class, which means unrestricted free agents such as Nene, Tyson Chandler and Samuel Dalembert will be beyond their means.
The list of restricted free agents includes Marc Gasol of Memphis and DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers, Spencer Hawes of Philadelphia and Jason Smith of New Orleans, whose teams have the right to match any offer and would presumably do so if that offer was for only one year. Stopgap choices from the unrestricted free agent ranks could include Kurt Thomas, Shaquille O'Neal (who has a player option for next season), Nazr Mohammed, Jason Collins, D.J. Mbenga and Jeff Foster.
3. What will the Knicks do on draft night?
There are a slew of intriguing international prospects at the center position, although Enes Kanter of Turkey, Donetas Montiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania, and Lucas Nogueira of Brazil figure to be gone by the time the Knicks select 17th. One name to keep an eye on is Bismack Biyambo of the Congo, whose wingspan measures 7-foot-7 and who led the ACB (Spanish first division) in blocked shots. He was especially impressive at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland this month, which might make him a goner, too, by the time the Knicks make their pick.
If the Knicks choose to go for a shooting guard to upgrade the position after Landry Fields scored just seven points total in the four playoff games against Boston, players who could be available include Alec Burks of Colorado and Klay Thompson of Washington State. The Knicks do not have a second-round pick, but they have been willing in recent years to spend $3 million to acquire a low first-rounder from a team that would prefer the cash to giving a two-year guaranteed contract to a rookie. Problem is, none of the teams selecting from 20-30 this June fits that profile.
If the Knicks choose to buy a second-round pick, the Lakers have four and the Clippers have three.
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