Here are the first seven human beings Donnie Walsh added to the Knicks roster after he was hired as team president/GM/pooh-bah on April 2, 2008: Chris Duhon, Anthony Roberson, Patrick Ewing Jr., Larry Hughes, Cheikh Samb, Joe Crawford, and Darko Milicic. The legacy of Donnie Walsh’s tenure with the Knicks, which ends today, will never really be judged by whom he brought to the team, even though Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are here because of him. It will be whom he cleared off it, the mess he cleaned up: a savage, gnarled, hideous mess. It’s still kind of amazing he did it.
Yep, today is Donnie Walsh’s last day, with Glen Grunwald, “salary-cap wizard,” taking over on an interim basis. That “interim” may last a long time: With the lockout looming, the Knicks aren’t in any sort of hurry to find a replacement, and with this much uncertainty, candidates aren’t in that much of a hurry to take over. But let’s not worry about that just yet: Let’s reflect on Donnie Walsh’s time here.
Let us not forget that one of the first issues Walsh had to deal with when he arrived was what to do with Stephon Marbury. This place was a disaster area when he came here, and he … well, he didn’t exactly fix it, but he put the franchise in a position where it could be fixed. He unloaded Jared Jeffries’s contract, and Jamal Crawford’s contract, and stabilized the whole enterprise: The Knicks likely never had a shot at LeBron James, but Walsh at least put the Knicks in a position where they weren’t openly mocked. The great myth of New York City sports is that fans will not tolerate rebuilding, that you Must Compete for a Championship Every Season or you are some sort of rube loser. Walsh surveyed the wretched situation spread before him and went about trying to salvage it.
He made some mistakes, sure: He’d love to have that Jordan Hill pick, for one. But the Knicks were the laughingstock of the NBA when Walsh came in. Now they have a flashy renovation going on, a playoff appearance under their belt, higher ticket prices that aren’t being rebelled against, and two superstars whose names are recognized the world over. He didn’t make the Knicks a champion. But he made them less of an embarrassment. That might have actually been more difficult than taking some other, less crazy franchise to a title.
And let us not forget his first move as Knicks president: Seventeen days after he was hired, he fired Isiah Thomas. That was one problem he never quite figured out how to fix.
So, good-bye, Donnie Walsh. The last three years have been tolerable, and exciting, and relevant because of you. Don’t forget to write. Or call. Or, uh, take over the franchise again, if we need you to.