A disgusted Donnie Walsh watched Monday's embarrassing loss to LeBron James and the Cavaliers from his apartment in Manhattan. He knew these first two seasons, in which the slash-and-burn strategy would be employed to open up salary-cap space, weren't going to be easy. But, he said, "I never expected to see anything like that."
His team of expiring contracts produced a more respectable effort in last night's 128-104 win over the Pistons at the Garden, but Walsh knows the only result that matters will be what comes of this summer, when the rebuilding strategy he outlined and has stuck to through two painful seasons of losing will finally involve building a team.
"That's my pressure," Walsh said before the game. "I explained to everybody exactly how I was going to approach it."
He said he regularly updates ownership about the status of his plan and, when asked if he felt he had full support from the Garden, Walsh replied, "They'll have to decide if I'm the guy to do it. But I'm doing what I said I'd do."
Al Harrington led the Knicks (21-39) with 26 points, David Lee had 21 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists and Tracy McGrady looked very fresh in 34 minutes and had 21 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince led the Pistons (21-40) with 16 points each.
Before the game, Walsh backed embattled coach Mike D'Antoni, who has been widely criticized in the media and by fans - and himself - for his job performance this season. And in doing so, Walsh went on to make several references to his own job status.
"Mike's my coach, all right?" said Walsh, 67, who has one year left after this season on his contract with the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday. "I have more responsibility for whatever you guys are writing about than he does. So I should be the guy looked at."
One problem involves one benefit of losing: lottery picks. Walsh traded last year's pick, Jordan Hill, in the McGrady deal that cleared $9.5 million more in cap space. This year's pick is already owned by the Jazz, as a result of the Stephon Marbury trade from January 2004, which was someone else's attempt at rebuilding.
When Walsh was hired in April 2008, his mission from the start was to dump as much payroll as possible to get under the salary cap and then try to survive through it until this summer, when the Knicks would be serious players in free agency for the first time since 1996.
"I don't think I put Mike in a situation where I think he should be winning with this team," he said.
Walsh said he saw no other way. Those before him - Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas - were victims of the same pressure from losing that he faces now. "Guys were trying to go sideways," he said, "and the [payroll] got to $100 million."
Walsh vowed that if the Knicks can't attract a superstar talent (such as LeBron James) this summer, he won't just throw money around this year. The plan would continue into the following summer, when the Knicks will have more cap space to spend.
"I'm not asking for time; I won't have that much time," Walsh said, again referencing his job mortality. "But I know one thing: Now at least we have a flexible position and whether it's next summer or the summer after, we're going to start adding players to this team that can head you in direction."
He also added, "And if I'm not the guy, I'll leave. I don't know another way to say it."