Tuesday March 18th, 2008

If there is any truth to reports from New York that the Knicks have met with Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh, then I don't assume that necessarily means the end for Isiah Thomas.

Instead, I see it as another sign that the controversial president and coach will be back with the Knicks in a significant role next season.

It's very simple. Walsh is the gold standard for team executives. He has a high ethical standard, and he also has a good relationship with Thomas.

Would such a man as Walsh engage in discussions to replace Thomas while his friend is still working the job and planning to return next year? Would Walsh stab Thomas in the back? I doubt this very much. On the contrary, I think Walsh would refuse to discuss taking over the Knicks' presidency unless Thomas already had been fired and that position was open.

This has nothing to do with Thomas' won-loss record, his role in last summer's sexual harassment trial or any other negative. It has everything to do with the standards of conduct that have defined Walsh for two decades. Interviewing for a job that is currently occupied -- by a friend, no less -- is a line he should refuse to cross.

The story makes sense, however, if one assumes that Walsh would be hired to work with Thomas, rather than to replace him.

If Walsh moves to New York to work alongside Isiah, then Knicks owner James Dolan gets to save face. He improves his organization without having to admit that he was wrong to stick with Thomas for all these losing years.

Rather than giving up on Thomas, Dolan can tell fans that he is investing in him -- that Thomas was bearing too great a burden by serving the Knicks as coach as well as president, and that Walsh is being hired as someone who can work with Thomas to put the organization on a winning path. Because Walsh and Thomas have an excellent relationship, there is no doubt they can work together.

All season I have doubted that the Knicks would fire Thomas, as that would force Dolan to admit that he was wrong for believing in his president and coach. Bringing in Walsh to work with Thomas would strengthen the Knicks while improving Dolan's chances of ultimately being vindicated for the trust he has shown in Isiah.

Walsh hired Thomas as coach of the Pacers in 2000, but Walsh did not fire him. That decision was made in 2003 by Larry Bird.

Let me add a disclaimer: It may emerge that I'm totally off-base here, and that Dolan is looking to change course and fire Thomas. In which case, shame on Walsh if the reports are true that he is interviewing for the Knicks' presidency.

But my gut instinct is that Walsh would not position himself to be so ashamed. If anything, I would think that Walsh comes to praise Isiah, not to bury him.

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