Early in the afternoon, Thomas was fired as the basketball coach by Florida International University, after three losing seasons, a stint that directly followed his four-plus losing seasons with the Knicks.
Walsh, who replaced Thomas as the Knicks’ president in 2008 — then stepped down last spring to become a team consultant — was granted permission Friday morning to seek work with another franchise.
The Thomas firing and the Walsh news () broke within an hour of each other, setting N.B.A. blogs and Twitter timelines ablaze with speculation. Could Thomas return to the Knicks? Would Walsh rejoin the Indiana Pacers? Or rescue the Washington Wizards?
The answers may not be known for months, giving Knicks fans ample time to panic and stock up on canned goods. But the coincidental career moves serve as a stark reminder of the power vacuum in the Knicks front office, and the political atmosphere that created it.
Walsh resigned mostly by James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman, and his lieutenants — a group that unofficially includes Thomas.
At the time, Walsh diplomatically couched his decision in personal terms, saying he was too old, at 70, to continue as a full-time executive. His quick return to the job market exposes the greater truth: Walsh was not too tired to work; he was just tired of working at the Garden.
Within the last week Walsh, through his agent Steve Kauffman, asked Dolan for permission to interview with other teams. Dolan granted it, sending word through Glen Grunwald, the interim general manager.
“Donnie obviously loves the game of basketball and really loves his job and wants to keep working on a full-time basis,” Kauffman said.
Walsh will likely be a team president or general manager somewhere by next season. He could return to Pacers (if Larry Bird steps down), or fill the vacancy in Portland. Washington and Orlando could clean house this summer, and Walsh would surely love the challenge of cleaning up another mess, as he did in New York.
Dolan never replaced Walsh, leaving the front office with an assortment of bright minds, but without a single, authoritative leader. Their two most important figures — Glen Grunwald and Coach Mike Woodson — have interim titles.
In the absence of a strong executive, the Knicks seem to be run by a network of shadow governments.
There is Thomas, who has been gone for three years but remains a Dolan confidant and a close friend of both Woodson and Grunwald.
There is William Wesley, the ubiquitous “Worldwide Wes,” who works for Creative Artists Agency and also has Dolan’s ear.
And there is C.A.A. itself, which represents two key players (Carmelo Anthony and J. R. Smith) and two key members of the front office (Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien) and does extensive business with the Garden.
When the Knicks signed Smith — a combustible personality with a checkered past — in February, C.A.A.’s influence was at work. In a news conference that night, Grunwald cited Warkentien by name, crediting one C.A.A. client with signing another.
Last year’s blockbuster trade for Anthony — which was made over Walsh’s objections, and contributed to his resignation — was also orchestrated to a large degree by C.A.A., via Warkentien.
Now C.A.A. could be positioning another of its marquee clients to take up residence at the Garden. John Calipari is reportedly intrigued by a return to the N.B.A., and could become a top candidate if Woodson is not retained.
Could Thomas also return? A Garden spokesman declined to comment, but the possibility cannot be dismissed. Dolan has never been shy about his friendship with Thomas and has openly admitted to seeking his counsel.
once, as a consultant in August 2010, only to have the arrangement nullified by the N.B.A. because Thomas’s position as a college coach created a conflict of interest. That conflict no longer exists.
After accruing a 26-65 record at F.I.U., Thomas again needs a chance to rehabilitate his reputation. Dolan could provide it. It might not even make much of a ripple. After all, Thomas has been working — unofficially and unpaid — as Dolan’s consultant for the last three years.
Walsh is leaving. Thomas could be returning. It’s like 2008 again, but the bizarro-world version. In the Knicks’ twisted universe, everything has its own strange symmetry.