NEW YORK — We’re barely a month removed from the biggest free-agent feeding frenzy in NBA history, and already the next wave has begun.
The Knicks’ controversial attempt to hire Isiah Thomas as a consultant hasn’t dissuaded candidates from pitching themselves as the right man for a job that team president Donnie Walsh has left vacant since he was hired two years ago — a day-to-day GM who eventually would succeed him. The latest twist, according to sources familiar with the situation, has potential candidates angling to present themselves to Walsh and Garden chairman James Dolan as the man who is capable of delivering Carmelo Anthony as a free agent next summer.
The overtures have fallen on deaf ears with Walsh for two reasons, sources say: 1) Walsh has yet to receive clearance to hire a general manager to handle the day-to-day basketball operations, and 2) The respected, 69-year-old executive has grown tired of the free-agent recruitment game and the dishonest pitches that invariably come with it.
Walsh’s desire to decompress from the untoward free-agent hysteria, however, didn’t stop Dolan from hiring Thomas — who was ousted and replaced by Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni in 2008 — as a consultant whose primary duty will be to recruit free agents. Sources say the hiring may very well be struck down by the NBA, which has strict rules against team employees having contact with high school, college and international players not yet eligible for the NBA draft.
Thomas positioned himself to return to the Knicks by convincing Dolan that he played an important role in the team landing free-agent power forward Amar’e Stoudemire this summer. The Knicks struck out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and decided they needed someone with Thomas’ clout to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
But Thomas isn’t the only current or former NBA executive trying to tout himself as the man who can persuade Anthony, a free agent next summer, to join Stoudemire with the Knicks. Part of that strategy, sources say, includes efforts on the part of at least one candidate to pitch himself to Creative Artists Agency — the firm that represents Anthony — as an addition to the Knicks’ front office who could bring Anthony with him.
Walsh has had it on the back burner for some time to hire a lead assistant with a big enough profile — and substantial enough resume — to replace him when he retires. Such a move would create a rare spasm of continuity for an organization that had known nothing but change and turmoil prior to Walsh’s hiring two years ago. Strong indications within the organization this summer have pointed to former player Allan Houston being groomed as Walsh’s successor. Houston impressed Dolan and other team officials with his performance in an expanded role during the free-agency period this summer.
Walsh is two years into a four-year contract, and the Knicks must decide by March 31, 2011 whether to guarantee the final year of the deal.
Anthony, an ideal fit for the Knicks, already has told confidants this summer that he’s eager to explore playing in New York. His dilemma is whether to turn down a three-year, $65 million extension offer from the Nuggets with only 10 months left in the current collective bargaining agreement. The new deal is expected to be much less lucrative for players. Sources say owners who were rattled by this summer’s free-agent frenzy — orchestrated by CAA, which represented James, Wade and Chris Bosh — are determined to clamp down not only on player salaries in the new agreement, but also player movement.
Anthony’s desire to play in New York is so strong, sources say, that those close to the three-time All-Star have scoffed at the efforts of executives touting themselves as being able to deliver him.
“Carmelo already wants to play in New York,” one person with knowledge of his plans told CBSSports.com. “He doesn’t need anybody to bring him there. He’s a gunslinger. That situation is perfect for him.”
Anthony’s teammate, Chauncey Billups, said after Team USA practice Tuesday that he still doesn’t know whether Anthony will sign the extension or test the free-agent waters next summer.
“If I was a betting man? I don’t know,” Billups said. “Of course, I’m biased because I’m playing on the team that he’s playing on. But I’m optimistic that he’s going to come back and play for the Nuggets. I know he loves the city. Shoot, he’s been there since he was 20 years old. So I’m optimistic, but I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t.”