These next few months will bring an end to the worst presidency of all time. I'm talking about the end of the reign of Isiah Thomas as President of the New York Knicks.
Donnie Walsh, Bronx native, builder of the Indiana Pacers and the competitive teams they fielded for decades, has taken over as the top man in New York. There will be no grand Inaugural Ball in his honor, no parade down 34th Street, no swearing-in ceremony in front of 19,500 fans.
But there should be.
For Donnie Walsh will have more meaning in the lives of New York basketball fans than any President of the United States.
Donnie Walsh is here to erase the stain of the last four and a half years. He is here to put it all behind us, to say, "Yes, we can," to give us hope, to ensure that the cold winter months in New York mean something, to ensure that our Aprils and Mays -- and hopefully our Junes -- will be replete with the passion that stems from having a rooting interest in playoff basketball.
The first orders of business for President Walsh are to hire a cabinet, and in his case, that means a new GM and a new coach. The expectation is that he'll bring in Billy King, formerly of Philadelphia, as GM, and then they will turn to a coaching hire, which I would prefer to be Mark Jackson, former Knick point guard.
In today's New York Times, Howard Beck writes that the Knicks should go after a veteran coach such as Scott Skiles or Rick Carlisle, because a culture of winning needs to be established and there's no time for a rookie coach to learn on the job.
Howard Beck, a great basketball writer, is wrong about this, in the way that many people seem to be wrong about New York basketball in general and Knicks fans specifically. The Knicks are not going to win now. If Red Holzman walked in that gym today, he would still need the help of a sherpa for that long trek upward toward winning. A coach such as Jackson, a local hero with great credibility, does have time to learn on the job. The Knicks may not be playoff-competitive for three years (although in the weak East, I suppose 35 wins means playoff-competitive). I'd rather see them grow with Jax than have them play scared with a veteran coach who has been tuned out by his players in previous locations and who joyously rants and raves on the sidelines all game.
Give me someone new. Make this a new day.
Billy King, I have questions about. I realize he hasn't been selected yet, but let's not get too excited about him just because he's anyone other than Isiah. I appreciate the fact that the Sixers are turning it around with the players King selected, but King also gave out some horrible contracts in his tenure in Philadelphia. Let's remember $68 million for past-his-prime Dikembe Mutumbo, $40 million to Kenny Thomas, $25 million to Brian Skinner. He made really poor trades; a bad trade for over the hill, the drawn out Allen Iverson mess and deal, Glenn Robinson, a really, really bad deal for past-his-prime Chris Webber -- some of King's moves reek of Isiah-ness. If he is the GM choice, I hope he has learned from these egregious mistakes.
Any GM, any President, any coach, has to look at the Knicks as a team that will build over time. One of the dumbest things Isiah Thomas said -- and it's quite a list -- was that Knicks fans need a team that will win right now. Isiah's not the first carpet bagger to make this pronouncement. When some new coach or GM comes to New York, they always say that New Yorkers are impatient and want to win right away. Okay, I suppose there's some truth to this; most fans would rather win right away than lose right away. I haven't met many sports fans who say, "Give me a loss over a win any day!" And I suppose New Yorkers are impatient, when it comes to crossing the street against the light, or wanting faster service when waiting on line for a pizza.
But in terms of building a team, Knick fans, overwhelmingly, want to see a plan in place that leads to a brighter future. They want to see competent basketball, and hard-working players.
If the team wins 35 games, but features young players on the upswing, believe me, we can take it.
The idea is to get to a point where the season means something. That's the goal, for now. We just want to be able to watch the games, we want to talk to our brothers, fathers, cousins, friends, and cab drivers about the Knicks. We want the passion back.
It'll take time. It'll take ignoring the Howard Becks who say, "Hire Scott Skiles." It'll take short-term pain. Goodbye to Stephon Mebury (nickname brilliantly coined by Peter Vescey). Some say he can't be dealt. He can. There is always a dumb GM willing to make a bad deal. Always. And Mebury's contract comes off the books soon -- someone will take him for that reason alone. Same with Zach Randolph. No one will take him? Wrong. Someone will see that their team needs low post scoring, and they'll make a deal. Goodbye, Zach.
No more trading of draft picks. Keep them - they're gold. The Knicks will have a high pick in June's draft. Get the best player available -- don't draft by position, don't draft a point guard because we need one. We need everything. Just get the best player you can. The Knicks do not have their 2010 pick, but they do have this year's and next year's. Use them wisely.
No more trades in which we get back a washed up vet with a bad long term contract. Only take short-term contracts. Don't sign players to long-term deals (unless it's David Lee, and even then, it depends on what he wants).
Get under the cap in 2010. It's only two years away, and the next two years cannot be worse than the last two. There'll be plenty of free agents available then (LeBron), but even if you cannot acquire a good free agent, cap space makes it easier to make a trade.
Donnie Walsh, you are responsible now for the Knicks. You are responsible for making April and May, and hopefully June, mean something. I have a little daughter now. I want her to be a fan. I want her to talk to her grandfather about the Knicks. I want her to understand what it's like to watch a game and have that game decide your mood for the next hour, the next day, the next week.
I want that feeling back, and I want it for the generation older than me, and the generations younger than me. I want us all to share in that common bond of Knicks basketball, that common language of Mason, Bradley, Oakley, Earl the Pearl, Ewing, Clyde, and Ken "the Animal" Bannister.
So give us something to hope for, something to watch, and a team to feel passionate about. Thanks, Donnie, and I wish you and your administration good luck.