Donnie Walsh likely to spurn Jim Dolan, Knicks and stay with Pacers
BY FRANK ISOLA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Sunday, March 23rd 2008, 4:00 AM
James Dolan better have a Plan B.
Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh, who met with Dolan less than two weeks ago about replacing Knicks president Isiah Thomas, is leaning toward remaining with the Pacers, according to a team source. Walsh had an eight-hour meeting on Friday with the Pacers' co-owners, Herbert and Melvin Simon, and could have a deal announced by the end of the week.
The only sticking point concerns the future of Pacers president Larry Bird, who will have to hand control of the day-to-day operations back to Walsh. The Simon brothers are not sure whether to keep Bird in a different role or just sever ties with the Indiana legend. There are whispers that Bird's younger brother, who holds the title of premium services manager with the Pacers, already has resigned.
"Barring something crazy happening, Donnie is staying," the source said. "The players all got a sense on Friday that Donnie would be around."
Walsh was unavailable for comment yesterday. The Bronx native, who built the Pacers into a contender throughout the '90s, has established roots in the Hoosier State and was committed to returning the franchise to prominence. The Pacers have been one of the NBA's worst teams on and off the court over the last four years, starting with the melee in the stands with fans in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Where Dolan, the Garden chairman, turns now is anyone's guess. The Daily News reported last month that the Knicks had engaged in preliminary talks with Nets assistant GM Kiki Vandeweghe. Both sides denied talking.
With Walsh apparently out of the picture, former Lakers GM Jerry West could be in the Knicks' plans. Former Phoenix owner Jerry Colangelo wants the job, while former Knicks president Ernie Grunfeld, now with Washington, also could emerge as a candidate.
Nuggets VP of basketball operations Mark Warkentien and former Sixers GM Billy King could enter the picture. Also, former Knick players-turned-TV analysts Greg Anthony and Mark Jackson also would be under consideration.
The news of Walsh's probable return came on a night when Thomas and the Knicks turned 50 ... as in losses. The Knicks lost, 114-93, to the Timberwolves in Minneapolis Saturday night to fall to 19-50, including 11 losses in their last 12 games.
In two years, Thomas has 99 losses and is one loss away from becoming the second-fastest coach in franchise history to post 100. Eddie Donovan ranks first with 194. "Sometimes you stay in the business long enough, you're going to have a really bad year," Thomas said before last night's game. "Look at Doc (Rivers) and Nate McMillan last year. They had some pretty tough years and they persevered and they got through it. That's what I intend to do."
The Knicks had just 10 players in uniform, including Zach Randolph, who was held out for the second straight game as the Knicks focused on improving their draft position. Nate Robinson was sidelined with a sprained right knee and Quentin Richardson did not travel for personal reasons.
For the second straight game, the Knicks gave up 69 first-half points and were playing from behind. Ryan Gomes led the T-Wolves with 26 points and Malik Rose led the Knicks with 20.
Thomas continues to drop hints that he will return next season even though Dolan's actions indicate that he wants to make a change at the top. As it turns out, Walsh gave Thomas his first head coaching job and in three seasons with the Pacers, Thomas went 131-115 and reached the playoffs all three years. But with the Knicks, Thomas has a losing record as team president and his record as head coach is even worse. Last night, he did not seem thrilled as reporters peppered him with questions about losing 50 games.
"I've won a lot," Thomas said. "If you add up my ... if you want to just take two years, that's fine. But if you add up the body of work, I've definitely won more than I've lost. You have your share of losses. I've been fortunate enough to win a couple of championships along the way and the price you pay sometimes is you have some tough years."
Thomas won two titles as a Hall of Fame point guard for the Pistons but his post-playing career has been defined by losing. Thomas has a losing record as an executive with Toronto and New York and his career coaching record is 31 games under .500.
The Knicks have lost 50 or more games for the second time in three years and for the third time this decade. Prior to the 2001-02 season, the Knicks hadn't lost as many as 50 games since 1986-87.