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Did Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni Fail?

"One word: Disaster. Check that. Let's make it two words: Utter disaster," says ESPN's Chris Sheridan this morning, and considering how Sheridan's puppy-dog LeBron's-coming-to-the-Knicks enthusiasm got us through the last seven days, it's disconcerting to see such a hard turn. "This is going to be bad, Knicks fans. Worse than the Travis Knight era." Yikes: Laying it on a bit thick, Chris, wethinks. Also: Lay off Travis Knight! His first year with the Knicks, they won 48 games. 48 games! 48 wins would be awesome. We would have gone with Othella Harrington there, or maybe Mardy Collins.

Anyway, considering we've been waiting two years for yesterday, two years of wait that went for naught, Sheridan's hysteria does invite the question: Is the Mike D'Antoni–Donnie Walsh era now a failure? After all, they each came to New York facing a terrible mess, knowing it would be rough for awhile, with the idea that maybe they could convince LeBron James (or Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh) to come to town. It's the reason they were here in the first place. They cleaned up the mess, but they didn't close the deal.

To be fair: They couldn't have predicted, at the start of this, that LeBron James would turn out a lot less interested in becoming an NBA legend than he was in having a good time with his friends. (There's nothing wrong with this, obviously, but part of people's frustration today is that LeBron, when faced with this mammoth decision, as Bill Simmons memorably put it yesterday, he would pick "HELP!" We'll now never know how transcendent he could have been.) But the Knicks' mission was not accomplished and, all told, the rest of the NBA, deep down, kind of considered the team's pitch to be a bit of a desperate joke. They'll try again with Carmelo Anthony next year, but unless the team is more respectable on the court next season, we'll go through all this mess again. (Note to self: pitch mag on "Hey, Carmelo, Welcome to New York" package for next May.)

All this said, the Knicks are better off than they were before Walsh and D'Antoni, by a large margin. (If Amar'e Stoudemire blows out his knee in the second month of the season, though, that's a different conversation.) What did we want from them? Did we want them to get LeBron? Or did we want them to weed out the mess of the Isiah Decade? We probably wanted them to do both. They made it halfway. With Walsh possibly retiring, he can say he left the Knicks better than when he found them. Just not better enough.

Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images