Knicks president Donnie Walsh.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr., 2008

The wheelchair that was only supposed to be temporary for Donnie Walsh has become a regular accessory. The 69-year-old president of the Knicks doesn't want to fumble with walkers and isn't quite strong enough yet for a cane, so Walsh will remain in his chair when training camp opens Saturday at the MSG Training Center.

And, as a result, the questions will linger about Walsh's tenure, as well. This is the final season of his contract, with a team option for 2011-12. Allan Houston's profile continues to grow as Walsh's understudy and the heir apparent, and there was an attempt to bring former team president Isiah Thomas back into the franchise.

Walsh snaps at the mere suggestion that his condition had a negative impact on the franchise's execution of its big plans for the offseason. "What I'm not accepting is this summer is a failure because LeBron didn't come," he said Tuesday.

Walsh has been battling health issues from the day he signed with the Knicks in April 2008. During a routine physical that comes with signing the contract, cancerous lesions were discovered on his tongue and had to be removed immediately. Then during a scouting trip to Europe this spring, it was reported on an NBA scouting website that Walsh had trouble getting up a set of bleachers. At first he believed it to be a hip problem, but an MRI revealed a spine injury. He underwent surgery in June to repair a disruption of his spinal cord, caused by a degraded disc in the upper part of his neck.

Walsh spent a week of post-op at Columbia Presbyterian and was released the day before the NBA draft. His first day back on the job was a 12-hour shift and Walsh admitted he wasn't sure if he could get through the day.

"We didn't know who we would wind up taking so I got the scouts together and we got into our plan and that's when I started feeling better," Walsh said. "The juices were flowing."

There was no chance of getting rest after that. Walsh didn't go with Mike D'Antoni to Los Angeles on June 30 to recruit Amar'e Stoudemire, but he did meet D'Antoni and the Knicks staff the next day in Cleveland to meet LeBron James and then flew with the entourage to Chicago to visit with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

He could have left the work to Houston, senior VP Glen Grunwald and MSG Sports president Scott O'Neill. He could have been home, preferably in Indiana where his wife, Judy, could care for him while he recovered from the surgery. But that was never an option he would consider. Walsh, like all Knicks fans, had been waiting for this summer for two, long years.

"I wouldn't do it," Walsh said. "I couldn't."

The LeBronathon has now turned into the Melopalooza as the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors dominate the tail end of the NBA offseason. The Knicks are believed to be Anthony's destination of choice, but the Nuggets aren't believed to be interested in anything Walsh has to offer. Things could change during the season, which means Walsh is certain to face as many questions about Anthony as he faced about James. But this is exactly what keeps those juices flowing.

"The thing that drives me is I really believe this franchise should be at the top of the league," Walsh said. "And I want to do what I can to get it there."

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