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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Isiah Thomas hire could mean end of road for Walsh in N.Y.

August 9, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Former Indiana Pacers President Donnie Walsh must feel like he’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The Pacers have faced some challenges over the years, but at least it’s not like living through an unending episode of "As The World Turns."

Listening to sources throughout the National Basketball Association, only one conclusion can be reached. Walsh’s days as president of the New York Knicks are numbered.

Somehow, incredibly, Isiah Thomas, has worked his way into the good graces of Madison Square Garden Chairman James Dolan, who is Walsh’s boss.

Dolan last week hired Thomas to the ambiguous position of consultant, and sources close to the team say the former IU star is already angling for Walsh’s job.

Walsh was so upset by the hire, according to reports, that he almost quit. Walsh’s contract with the Knicks runs through 2012, and he has said recently he’d like to stay to try to turn around the storied franchise. That was all before Thomas entered the scene with his million-dollar smile and his assurances—that most NBA insiders agree aren’t worth 2 cents—that he can help recruit the likes of Carmello Anthony and Chris Paul to New York.

Yes, this is the same Thomas who ruined the Continental Basketball Association, got on Larry Bird’s bad side while coach of the Pacers and was run out of Indiana, then was an absolute disaster on so many levels while serving as boss of the Knicks. Walsh replaced Thomas as chief of basketball operations in 2008, then shortly after fired Thomas as Knicks coach.

We won’t even go into the sexual harassment lawsuit involving Thomas in New York. All that’s on the Internet.

What’s less well known is that Thomas has been working Dolan since the day he was replaced by Walsh, and somehow managed to gain Dolan’s trust. Thomas was glued to Dolan’s side at Dolan’s July 4 party in Long Island last month.

“Isiah is just so charming,” said one NBA insider.

Thomas is still the head men’s basketball coach at Florida International University, but that won’t keep him from swooping back into New York full-time if the opportunity arises.

Walsh meanwhile is struggling with his own set of challenges. He whiffed on the big three free agents this off-season, and the addition of Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t likely to lift the Knicks too far out of the cellar.

Walsh pleaded with Dolan to let him hire former Pacers (and Golden State) player Chris Mullin as Knicks general manager and Dolan vetoed the move. If Walsh doesn’t have any other health concerns, he’s certainly developing an ulcer over all of this. And who said the L.A. Clippers had the wackiest management in the NBA.

Dolan certainly seems like he’s making more than his share of missteps, but you have to wonder what Walsh was thinking when he went to work for this guy. Dolan’s style is in stark contrast to the steady-as-she-goes Mel and Herb Simon duo that Walsh worked for here.

So what’s going on inside Walsh’s head these days? It’s difficult to say. He isn’t talking to reporters much.

But one thing is certain. It seems like an awfully long time ago since Walsh drafted Reggie Miller over IU grad Steve Alford, and his genius emerged here in Indianapolis.

And even longer yet since the day Walsh hired Thomas to follow Bird as Pacers head coach.
 

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