If the Knicks wind up with Carmelo Anthony before the Feb. 24 trade deadline - as almost everyone in the NBA expects - some people will point to yesterday's hiring of Mark Warkentien, with the title of "Director, Pro Player Personnel,'' as the first step toward making it happen.
But Knicks president Donnie Walsh said the fact that Warkentien previously was the general manager of the Denver Nuggets and has close ties to that organization and Anthony - as well as Anthony's representation, Creative Artists Agency - is mere coincidence.
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"We didn't hire him for that reason," Walsh said after practice at MSG Training Center. "I didn't do it for that reason, no."
It doesn't hurt to have someone on the staff with inside information and a direct link to Anthony's camp, especially William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley. But this hire has as much to do with Warkentien's vast knowledge of the college game and the NBA as it does with the team's pursuit of Anthony.
Walsh turns 70 on March 1 and has endured three surgical procedures in his two-plus years as team president. Warkentien, 57, gives the franchise an experienced basketball executive who can assist Walsh with some of the heavy lifting.
Walsh and Warkentien, the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009, have talked about teaming up for more than a year.
"I've known him for a long time and he's wanted to work here for a long time and I thought this was a good time to do it," Walsh said of Warkentien. "His life has been in basketball the same way mine is."
Warkentien has worked in the NBA since 1991, when he started as a scout for the Seattle SuperSonics. He also served as GM for the Cavaliers and Trail Blazers and spent several years at the college level with UNLV and USC.
He often has consulted with Walsh on personnel moves and simply to talk basketball. After the Nuggets-Knicks brawl on Dec. 16, 2006, which resulted in a 15-game suspension for Anthony, Warkentien called Walsh - who had the experience of the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in November 2004 - for advice on how to handle the situation.
"When he started at Denver, if he was going to do a big move," Walsh said, "he'd run it by me."
Warkentien was on Walsh's short list of potential GM candidates that also included Billy King and Chris Mullin. Walsh wanted to hire Mullin as general manager last summer but, according to multiple sources, the move was denied by Knicks owner James Dolan because the team's basketball budget did not have a salary slot for a general manager.
Dolan then made the move to hire Isiah Thomas as a consultant to the team, but the NBA blocked the move because of Thomas' connection with the NCAA as coach at Florida International University. Though there has been widespread concern about Thomas eventually returning to the franchise, several sources have indicated that it no longer is something Dolan is considering. Thomas, another source said, has received the message and has since turned his focus to returning to the NBA in another capacity.
Walsh has a team option for next season, and his future with the team has come into question because of an April 30 deadline for the Knicks to pick up that option. Walsh said he has not talked with Dolan about the option or an extension and said Thursday he doesn't believe this is the right time for it.
It was, however, the right time to add to the front office, which also includes experienced former GMs Glen Grunwald and John Gabriel and assistant GM Allan Houston.
In the pursuit of Anthony, all hands will be on deck.
With Laura Albanese
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