Could Donnie Walsh's departure ultimately lead to Phil Jackson coaching...

Could Donnie Walsh's departure ultimately lead to Phil Jackson coaching the Knicks? (Sept. 24, 2010) Credit: AP

After a decade of constant transition and three seasons of major roster changes, what the Knicks need most is stability. But even if Donnie Walsh had accepted James Dolan's terms in a two-year extension, there still would be a deadline looming. Walsh turned 70 in March and, after more than a quarter-century in the business, he wasn't going to continue doing this forever.

At the very least, however, the man who started this exhaustive rebuild would have had a little more time to finish it. Instead, Walsh is now the man who has set the table by transforming the franchise from a losing team buried under large contracts to a playoff-caliber group led by two perennial All-Stars in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

But perhaps in his departure, Walsh gains greater influence over the direction of the franchise. The most overlooked result of Friday's announcement is that Dolan still will pay Walsh to serve as a consultant for the 2011-12 season. Perhaps in that role, he somehow can substitute for Isiah Thomas as Dolan's basketball confidant.

In fact, Walsh already was interviewing GM candidates to work under him. "Even on a two-year deal, there was an idea that I would mentor somebody," Walsh said Friday. "So I have brought names to [Dolan's] attention and I stand ready to continue to advise him on that."

Whoever does get the job will have not just Walsh to lean on but will have the ghost of Isiah to haunt him. That person also will inherit the task of improving a roster that may have Stoudemire, Anthony and Chauncey Billups but also has nine roster spots to fill with zero salary-cap space to spend.

And then there is the suddenly lame-duck coach, Mike D'Antoni, who goes into the final year of his contract working for someone else. D'Antoni and Walsh didn't have a cozy relationship, but there always was mutual support. In his statement about Walsh, Dolan made reference to D'Antoni by saying the team has "an outstanding coach."

D'Antoni has a major ally in Stoudemire, but Anthony and Billups weren't nearly as complimentary. And just as restless as the fan base is about Looming Isiah, there is growing impatience for defensively challenged D'Antoni. A slow start to the season (and this one could be shortened by a lockout) could create an opportunity to make a change.

But here's where it gets interesting, because as long as the Knicks' coaching situation is not settled, Phil Jackson is not officially retired. Those close to the 11-time NBA championship coach say his career can't be complete until he comes full circle and fills the position once held by his mentor, the great Red Holzman.

Twice before, Jackson and the Knicks have flirted with the idea, but he chose to join the Lakers in 1999 and the Knicks' roster was not nearly established enough in 2005. But with Anthony and Stoudemire, Jackson might feel the time is right.

Then again, with only Anthony and Stoudemire and a great deal of uncertainty involving the salary-cap system in the new collective-bargaining agreement, the Knicks still might not be championship-caliber.

Walsh did most of the heavy lifting in shedding the payroll of those large contracts to create the cap space necessary to acquire Stoudemire and Anthony, but there still is a lot of work to be done.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.