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Grading Donnie Walsh, Part III


We’ve already evaluated Donnie Walsh based on his Drafting ability in Part I, resulting in a big ol’ zero, meaning he was neither particularly good or bad.  In Part II, when we discussed Trades, he definitely performed well, scoring a +3.  Today we’ll examine perhaps the most important aspect of his legacy so far: Free Agency.  For many execs this doesn’t play a huge role, however since Walsh’s stated goal from Day One has been to clear cap space for a run at the max players this past summer, then it’s only fair that this should be a hugely significant factor in his evaluation.  Once again, reprinting the rules:

1. I don’t believe in negative Monday morning quarterbacking, so I don’t punish people for making decisions that were widely held to be smart at the time, but ended up working out poorly.  Meaning if LeBron James breaks his leg in seventeen places in a car accident tomorrow and can never really play better than an average player again, I can’t fault Pat Riley for signing him down the road.

2. I do, however, believe in giving credit for decisions that seemed poor/insignificant at the time but turned out great.  When the Suns reacquired Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks, many pundits felt they overpaid due to Nash’s back issues and age.  Two MVPs and many amazing seasons later, it’s clear that was a good move.

3. Draft-wise, in addition to no negative Monday morning quarterbacking, I also don’t believe that if someone makes a pick that turns out surprisingly great, you can’t fault all the other teams for passing on the guy.  Like Isiah Thomas gets kudos for finding David Lee at #30, but since no one thought he’d be as good as he ended up being, I can’t penalize all other 29 teams for passing on him.

4. For each positive thing, I’ll add some points (the # of points will depend on how big a thing it was).  Similarly, for each negative decision, I’ll subtract some points.  We’ll keep a rolling tally.

Free Agency Signings

December 2009 – Jonathan Bender

Considering it was for the minimum and Bender was a former phenom who was still only 28, it was worth a gamble, so the Donster doesn’t lose a point.  Considering Bender showed nothing, the Donster also certainly doesn’t gain a point.  0

Subtotal = 0

April 2009  – Earl Barron

The man came out of nowhere to average a double-double!  Great find, but the puzzling part is that we haven’t resigned him for this season even though he still remains available.  I guess he provided some excitement and happiness at the end of last season, but since it was a dead season and we haven’t kept him, it’s hard to give too much kudos for the move.  0 (but would turn into +1 if we resign Barron and he gets solid minutes)

Subtotal = 0

July 2010 – Amar’e Stoudemire

With it looking unlikely we’d get two out of the three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, Walsh decided to go all in with Amar’e.  The goal was to ensure we wouldn’t end up empty-handed and that perhaps with Amar’e fully committed that could entice LeBron or Dwayne to follow suit.  Some felt we overpaid and/or that the contract is too long.  I disagree.  I think one of the main things with Amar’e was that he felt under-appreciated by management in Phoenix so by offering him a large contract he was willing to sign immediately.  Many people also worry that he might not be as good without Steve Nash, but I wonder the opposite: can he be even better if he’s the focus of the offense?  By contrast, the other top free agent power forwards, Chris Bosh, had been the focal point of the Raptors and clearly couldn’t carry them to success so there’d be no chance he’d improve on his previous numbers.  I also find the injury concerns laughable considering he’s had no knee issues since recovering from surgery and his only other issue was a freak eye accident that won’t reoccur since he now wears goggles.  The only legit concern is that perhaps due to the knee surgery his body will break down sooner that normal.  However, as we saw with Tracy McGrady, the last year of a large contract can be quite a valuable commodity, so really Amar’e would be extremely useful even if he only remains healthy for the first four years of the five year contract.  Lastly, his presence alone has already made ballers like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Carmelo Anthony all intrigued about possibly playing in New York.  It’s been a long, long, long, long, long time since any top players wanted to come to the Big Apple. +3

Subtotal = +3

July 2010 – NOT getting LeBron or Wade

The Knick fans endured two long seasons of losing under the premise that we might be able to get LBJ or Flash.  Actually, Wade was pretty consistent in saying that he wanted to stay in Miami, so really all our hopes were pinned on the Former King Of Cleveland.  Although I list Wade here because had we snagged him instead of LeBron, people would’ve been just as happy (some perhaps more so) and it wouldn’t have been considered a “Plan B” the way some view Stat.  Walsh did all he could, clearing enough cap space to sign two maxs, but it wasn’t enough, particularly when at the last moment Chicago also cleared enough room for two and Miami topped everyone by having the availability to snag three.  Once that happened, we likely had little shot at LeBron.  Clearly his top priority was playing with a friend, so had we been the only team with space for two big guns, we very well may have ended up with him.  Thus it’s hard to fault Walsh’s approach.  And once we started gearing up for this sweepstakes, many teams followed suit realizing we were onto a good idea.  Considering all the “untradeable” huge contracts we had when Walsh came in, his creating that space took a lot more work than say Miami and Chicago respectively giving away Michael Beasley and Kirk Hinrich for nothing.  That said, if we got LBJ or Wade, I would’ve felt pretty good about our chances of getting a championship in the next half decade.  With us not only not snagging them, but also them teaming up, things definitely look less hopeful even if we could somehow add a CP3 or Melo.  Results matter, and while there was nothing more we could’ve done, and 28 other teams came away empty-handed too, that still doesn’t mean this wasn’t a big black mark. -2

Subtotal = +1

7/10/10 – Raymond Felton

Not only did we manage to snag the top point guard (and only decent starter) available, Walsh somehow convinced him to agree to only a two-year deal.  It gives us flexibility so that we have cap space and an opening at the point guard slot right when CP3 becomes a free agent.  Also, because it’s such a short reasonable contract, it’s an excellent trading piece.  And of course if he turns out to be brilliant we can always just re-sign him.  So it’s win-win-win. +2

Subtotal = +3

7/13/10 – Timofey Mozgov

He’s played well in the FIBA World Championship this month, but we’ve seen plenty of foreign players who do well overseas but then can’t contribute when they get here.  If he can provide good minutes, then his three year $9.7 million contract will be good, but if not, we’ll be stuck with him hanging around on the bench for a few years.  That said, word is that had other teams known he was available, a bunch of ’em would’ve gone after Timo, so it ain’t like we signed someone no one else wanted.  Still, without any firm grasp as to what his production will be, the signing is too hard to grade at this point. Incomplete

Subtotal = +3

8/6/10 – Roger Mason, Jr.

Mason’s a decent player.  He’s supposedly signed to just a one-year deal, which again maintains those key words that were unknown during the Isiah era: future flexibility.  While he won’t hurt the team and it’s not a bad signing, he also very well might not add any wins either.  0

Subtotal = +3


Thus, after starting with a whopping nada in Drafting, Walshie has now bounced back with two +3s in a row, giving him an overall subtotal of +6.  Not bad.  Next week we’ll finish this off with what should be the final category: Other/General.  With him being so far into the positive, it’s hard to imagine he’ll end up with a negative ranking.  That said, remember, as we said in the first piece, even if Walsh were to quit tomorrow, it’d take at least another year or so to fully know what his final grade is.  If Amar’e turns out to be unable to perform without Nash, expect Walsh’s legacy to take a hit.  On the other hand, should all the rumors come true and in two years we end up with BOTH Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul playing alongside Stat, well, Donnie will have come out of nowhere to save us when all seemed lost, making him as big a hero to Knick fans as Willis Reed limpin’ on that one leg in Game 7.