For Donnie Walsh, deadlines looming

NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks still firmly believe that Carmelo Anthony will suit up for them this season or next. In fact, according to a source close to the pursuit, the Knicks still firmly believe that the hiring of Anthony will lead to the hiring of Chris Paul.

"Go back to the wedding toast," the source said.

Yes, the wedding toast. Who could ever forget that crazy midsummer night when Paul raised a glass at Anthony's wedding to the possibility of a "big three" in New York that would put Reed, Frazier and Monroe to shame (well, sort of)?

Amare Stoudemire, Anthony and Paul. "Nothing's really changed since that night," the source said. "The feeling is that Carmelo will be here this year, and Paul will be here in 2012."

Lately, Paul hasn't said much of anything about his future, ceding the circus tent to the main attraction, Anthony, who tells a new story every hour, on the hour, if only to feed the insatiable social-media beast. And here's the funny thing about a Knicks recruit who's been as maddeningly elusive -- to date -- as LeBron James was in July:

He's got more job security than the man charged to acquire him, Donnie Walsh.

Anthony has the option to sign a three-year, $65 million extension. Walsh? Jim Dolan has the option to tell him to get lost.

Walsh swears he isn't sweating his own looming deadline -- Dolan has until April 30 to grant him the final year of his contract -- or the notion that the team president's status amounts to a Melo-or-bust proposition. Wednesday night, in a quiet moment before the Knicks' disquieting 116-108 loss to the Clippers, I asked Walsh why the uncertainty wasn't getting to him.

"It's just not the time to think about it," he said. "I'm not worried about it. I'm at a time in my life and my career where I'm just not thinking about it."

As it turns out, even during seasons framed by possibility and hope, weird things happen in and around the office of the Garden chairman, Dolan, who took his customary Eighth Avenue seat and projected his customary vibe of a bored, semi-disgruntled fan.

Why hasn't Dolan signed up Walsh for next season? If nothing else, Dolan's continued silence and inactivity on this front breathes life into the theory that Walsh had better complete a deal with Denver that makes his employer proud.

"I'm just hoping something's there that we can do to make us better," Walsh said of a deal, any deal, before the Feb. 24 deadline.

Some people who do business with the Knicks don't believe Dolan is necessarily upset with Walsh, who landed Stoudemire, signed Raymond Felton for a song, and found Landry Fields with the 39th pick. But those same people don't believe Dolan is necessarily smitten with Walsh, either.

Of course, Isiah Thomas is the man in the middle, the exiled executive who talks to Dolan more than Walsh does. No matter what happens or doesn't happen with Walsh's contract, Dolan will keep his good friend Thomas as one of his most trusted -- if unpaid -- advisers.

And as much as Walsh deserves credit and a contract extension for clearing out Isiah's overstuffed contracts, Dolan believes Stoudemire wouldn't be a Knick if it weren't for Thomas' relationship with Stoudemire's former summer coach and current adviser, Travis King. That relationship was the reason Dolan ordered Donnie to thank Isiah at Amare's welcome-to-New York news conference.

Everyone in the know understands that this is no longer your father's NBA, that a league once controlled by old-school power brokers now belongs to summer-circuit runners and agents who have outgrown the sneaker camp racket.

Dolan believes Thomas has far better connections with that circle than does Walsh (or Mike D'Antoni, for that matter), precisely why Thomas was the one asked to make that failed last-ditch trip to meet with a LeBron James adviser way back when.

Now Dolan wants Thomas to remain in touch with his friend William (World Wide Wes) Wesley at Creative Artists Agency, which represents Anthony, Paul and new Knicks executive Mark Warkentien, whose presence speaks to the strange dynamic upstairs.

Warkentien spoke with his mentor, Walsh, for months about a position in the Knicks' front office, and when the former Denver executive began to sense he'd end up like Mark Jackson and Chris Mullin -- people wooed by Walsh but never hired -- he took his cause to Dolan and another Garden suit, Scott O'Neil, to finally score the job.

None of this means it's all over for Walsh. Dolan is unpredictable enough to wake up Thursday, with the bitter taste of defeat still fresh in his mouth, and announce that the team president has earned a three-year extension.

As it is, Walsh remains the odds-on favorite to solidify his standing by trading for Anthony. One source said Walsh wasn't rattled by the news that the Lakers might make a play for Anthony; the Knicks don't believe Denver would gift wrap the Lakers yet another dynasty that the Nuggets would then have to topple.

"I don't know what's posturing," Walsh said, "or what's real."

Team-wide apathy was the only real development for the Knicks on Wednesday night, as the Clippers didn't even require a superhuman effort from Blake Griffin to beat them. The Garden crowd chanted, "We want Melo!" and D'Antoni trashed his team for a "total lack of commitment."

Music to the Nuggets' ears, as the pressure mounts on Walsh to sweeten his offer and get Anthony sooner rather than later.

"I think great players should really want to play here," Walsh said long before his one great player, Stoudemire, followed his coach's lead and ripped the Knicks for "just going through the motions."

Walsh is hardly going through the motions in the hunt for Anthony, and in the not-too-distant chase for the third star the Knicks will inevitably need to outlast the Miami Heat.

Without naming names, Walsh said that the free agent class of 2012 -- Paul, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard -- is very much on his mind. "Yes it is," he said. "It would be one element that's in your thoughts."

But the Knicks need a "big two" before they can fret about a big three. One heartless loss to the Clippers later, they can only pray that midsummer wedding toast wasn't someone's idea of a practical joke.