Donnie Walsh's expected arrival at Madison Square Garden might not guarantee Isiah Thomas' exit as New York Knicks coach.
The New York Daily News, citing an unnamed source, reported Thursday that owner James Dolan's preference is to keep Thomas on the sidelines, even after he hires a successor to Thomas to run the organization.
"There isn't a basketball executive alive who would keep Isiah as head coach, but Jim is telling whoever he interviews, 'I would prefer to keep Isiah but you do what you have to do,'" the source close to Dolan told the Daily News. "If Isiah isn't the coach, Jim still wants him to stay in the organization in some capacity."
Walsh, who announced this week that he is leaving the Pacers organization at the end of this season, is expected to sign a three-year, $15 million contract with New York at the end of this season to oversee its basketball operations division, a source told ESPN on Monday.
Earlier this week, Knicks spokesman Jonathan Supranowitz told The Associated Press that the team would not comment on a deal between the Knicks and Walsh.
Walsh's agent, Steve Kaufman, said he would not comment on his client's employment status until after the NBA season.
In New York on Monday, Thomas wouldn't comment on speculation that Walsh could replace him in the front office, but he praised his former boss with the Pacers.
"He's had a great career, he's one of the best who's ever done it," Thomas said before the Knicks lost to New Jersey to fall to 19-51 on the season. "I wish him great success and he's someone that I respect tremendously. He gave me my first coaching job and I truly do like him as a person and he's done a lot for the game."
NBA commissioner David Stern, who hasn't hidden his displeasure with the Knicks' fall from grace, has been a fan of Walsh for years.
"I think he's a basketball lifer and a professional. When I have often needed basketball advice, he's on a short list of people who I pick up the phone and call around the league," Stern said Thursday during a conference call to discuss the NBA's preseason tour of Europe in October.
"I do know that the ownership of the Knicks is committed to improving the team."
Walsh has been with Indiana since 1984, and he hired Thomas as Pacers coach in 2000. But he's had a lesser role since 2003, when he made Larry Bird the team president. Bird promptly fired Thomas.
Though Thomas signed a multiyear contract extension last March, questions about his job status surfaced in the first month of the season, when the Knicks got off to a horrible start soon after a jury found Thomas and MSG had sexually harassed a former team executive.
Dolan hasn't spoken to the media, but there's been no indication he planned to make a change during the season. However, with the Knicks sitting at 20-51 in their seventh straight losing season, he may have to do something over the summer.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.