<
>

Knicks' Thomas philosophical, but Walsh hasn't decided coach's future

INDIANAPOLIS -- The New York Knicks' miserable season is finally over. Now the overhaul can begin.

New Knicks president Donnie Walsh won't make a decision on Isiah Thomas until at least Thursday, saying he wants to sleep on his thoughts about the team's future before rushing into a decision.

The New York Daily News, however, reported that according to a source, Thomas was notified last week that he would not be returning as the Knicks' coach.

Walsh repeatedly deflected questions about Thomas's fate less than an hour before New York faced his former team, Indiana, in its season finale, which ended with the Knicks' franchise record-tying 59th loss of the season Wednesday. Walsh still has not set a timetable for an announcement.

"I'm thinking all that out, being coach, whether it's another role, and when I come to a final decision I'll announce it," Walsh said in the same building he called home just a month ago. "You know, these are people's lives we're dealing with and I've always treated it that way. So I think it deserves to be given that kind of dignity and respect."

Hours before Walsh spoke, Thomas sounded like a man resigned to his fate.

With rampant speculation about whether he'd return for a third season as coach, a subdued Thomas spoke philosophically about New York's dismal season. He acknowledged it's been one of the most challenging experiences he's ever had in basketball and defended the job he did as both president, before Walsh arrived, and as coach.

His attitude didn't change during the game. Thomas spent most of the night sitting stoically on the Knicks bench, took only two questions in his postgame news conference and shook hands with friends.

The rumors are Thomas will be gone by Friday, although team spokesman Jonathan Supranowitz said again after the 132-123 loss that no news conference has been scheduled.

"I want to see what Donnie has to say," Thomas said afterward. "He's our boss. Whatever he asks us to do, whatever he wants us to do, we'll do."

Walsh said Tuesday he had spoken with Thomas about his future with the team but that the conversations were continuing. Walsh has said he wants the murky coaching situation cleared up before June's NBA draft, but offered no hints how soon that could happen.

First, he must determine whether Thomas will return.

"Like any decision, you have to get by yourself and decide to go one way or the other," Walsh said. "I'm going to be there now."

While the Knicks have endured seven straight losing seasons, none have compared with the turmoil of this one.

Thomas and guard Stephon Marbury engaged in a public feud that sent the season spiraling out of control after only five games. Marbury left the team in Phoenix after Thomas threatened to remove him from the starting lineup, and the Knicks lost their next six games.

Marbury was only part of the problem.

Thomas also had disagreements on the bench during games with Quentin Richardson and Zach Randolph, and his decision to replace center Eddy Curry in the starting lineup led to a loss of Curry's confidence and a regression in his play.

"It's hard not to take all that into consideration, because that's the image of your franchise, but I don't put that above doing the right thing," Walsh said. "Obviously, some things have been very publicized and I've not gotten into those things. But it also overshadowed a lot of things he [Thomas] did that were very good for the New York Knicks."

Of course, that doesn't mean Thomas is safe.

And even players are bracing for the expected offseason moves.

"We know that when the season winds down, there are going to be changes," forward Jared Jeffries said, "because whenever you have a season as turbulent as we have, there are going to be changes."

The challenges of this season carried over into Wednesday night's game, too.

Only nine players dressed for the Knicks after their latest round of injuries. Backup forward Renaldo Balkman sat out after getting hurt in Monday night's home finale against Boston, and forward Wilson Chandler sat out with a sprained left knee.

The result: Indiana scored its most points of the season and New York allowed its most points of the season.

"I'm not looking for sympathy or anything like that," Thomas said before the game. "That's sports, and basketball has been extremely good to me. You can't be on top all the time, although I want to be. You've got to overcome the bad times and hold onto your dignity."

But can he hold onto his job?

While Thomas seemed to acknowledge there have been mistakes, he also said New York's players matured this season and that he did everything he could to turn around the franchise's fortunes.

"What I've been asked to do and required to do by the Knicks, I've tried to perform to the best of my ability," Thomas said. "This is a very disappointing season. I'm not used to being at the bottom. But this is what it's like on the bottom, and this is how you get treated on the bottom. That's how it is."