OFF THE DRIBBLE; Knicks Keep Fans in Dark About Front-Office Plans

A month has passed since the Knicks were eliminated from the N.B.A. playoffs. In that time, they also seem to have administratively banished themselves from public.

After sweeping the Knicks in the first round, the Boston Celtics were beaten in five games by Miami but announced immediately afterward that Coach Doc Rivers had agreed to a five-year contract.

The Los Angeles Lakers, dethroned in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, managed within two weeks to conduct a coaching search. They have reportedly reached a deal with Mike Brown to replace the retiring Phil Jackson.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have retreated behind a wall of administrative silence, slipped into a virtual no-comment coma. They appear to be bracing for the league’s coming labor showdown by locking out their fan base.

The Knicks do have a coach – Mike D’Antoni – under contract for next season. But the team president, Donnie Walsh, who hired D’Antoni, is not signed beyond June 30, and all basketball-related matters moving forward would seemingly begin with him.

Asked Thursday if plans had been made for an announcement on Walsh, a Knicks spokesman said, ”We have nothing planned right now.”

When Walsh and his staff were in Chicago recently for the N.B.A.’s annual draft camp, it might have been assumed that he would be back next season. But asked by a New York Post reporter about his job status, Walsh said: ”I’m not going to be premature with this. I’ve told you the same thing. When I know what I’m doing, I’ll tell you.”

Despite news media speculation that a new contract for Walsh is a formality, fans may recall that such was the case with Rod Thorn and the Nets last year at this time. He left abruptly after the June draft and wound up in the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office.

The lack of urgency and transparency on this rather important issue created a vacuum in communication when season-ticket holders needed every morsel of information they could get.

Is Walsh returning to continue the three-year rebuilding that landed Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks back in the playoffs this season for the first time since 2004? Has he been given a no-interference pledge (whatever that might be worth) by James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman?

Is Walsh firmly behind D’Antoni, despite speculation they have differences on how to competitively approach the game? Will D’Antoni be forced to hire a defensive-oriented assistant to address the team’s – and D’Antoni’s, at least by reputation – most glaring weakness? Does Walsh absolutely believe the Knicks will have enough salary cap space and/or trading assets to land another marquee player?

Inquiring minds and cash-tapped customers undoubtedly would have wanted to know before a May 13 deadline for season-ticket renewal came and went. Unfortunately, the Knicks’ message to their most treasured followers could be summed up as such: We say nothing, you pay more.

After six years of holding prices steady during a competitive dark period in the team’s history, Dolan socked ticket holders with increases that averaged 49 percent buildingwide but at courtside surged astronomically – to $900 from $330 in certain seats.

On April 7 – before the playoffs – the most tenured season-ticket holders were invited by the Knicks to a luncheon at the team’s Westchester County practice facility with Walsh and D’Antoni. The mood was described by one fan who attended as friendly, almost festive, though Walsh, when asked, said he would not discuss his future.

When The Times interviewed longtime season-ticket holders during the Celtics series, several were dismayed by the perceived lack of loyalty shown them by the Garden after years of supporting teams that were often unwatchable and unlikable.

Contacted again this week, some of the fans said they had renewed their seats by partnering with wealthy underwriters, from whom they would buy back a handful of games, thus ending a decades-long tradition of attending most home games. Others said they were in the process of moving to a different and cheaper location within the Garden and did not want to be quoted by name for fear of retribution.

”At the very least, they could have gotten everything straightened out so we would have an idea of what we were paying a fortune for,” one fan said.

But worse, the fan agreed, has been watching Miami roll through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs thus far. Having Walsh back would provide a sense of stability and some assurance against the return of Isiah Thomas. But that wouldn’t make anyone feel better about the Knicks’ chances of beating the Heat any time soon.

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.

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