Donnie Walsh hired Isiah Thomas to coach the Indiana Pacers in 2000, but wasn't the one to let him go three disappointing seasons later. Now running the New York Knicks, Walsh can end another lackluster Thomas tenure.
In what could be Thomas' last game on their sideline, the Knicks look to avoid matching the franchise record for losses when they visit the Pacers in the teams' season finale Wednesday night.
Walsh oversaw Thomas' hiring with the Pacers eight years ago, and Indiana lost in the first round of the playoffs in three straight seasons. When Walsh brought in Larry Bird to run the Pacers in 2003, Thomas was fired.
Walsh, who replaced Thomas as the Knicks' president earlier this month, will decide if Thomas will remain New York's coach next season. Walsh said he wants the situation settled before the draft, and Thomas' job is certainly in jeopardy with the Knicks set to conclude one of the worst seasons in team history.
New York fell to 23-58 with a 99-93 loss to Boston in its home finale Monday night, and needs a win against Indiana (35-46) to avoid tying the franchise record for losses, last matched two years ago during Larry Brown's lone season as coach and Thomas' second full season as team president.
"There are certain times when you live in uncertainty and you're not comfortable with it, but you have to learn to settle and be patient and see what plays out," Thomas said. "And we all want certainty in our life. However, in the uncertain times you have to sit with it and in sports there are a lot of uncertain times."
Walsh helped oversee an Indiana team that nearly made the playoffs this season, but he will have his hands full with New York. The Knicks are saddled with several big-money contracts, and have a roster full of ill-fitting pieces.
Indiana, meanwhile, has seen 2005 first-round pick Danny Granger flourish this season, which bodes well for its future. Granger is averaging career highs of 19.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but the Pacers fell just short of making the postseason.
Indiana was eliminated from playoff contention with a 117-110 loss to Washington on Monday night, despite a 35-point performance from Granger. The Pacers have missed the playoffs in two straight years for the first time since the 1987-88 and '88-89 seasons.
"We're very disappointed we didn't make the playoffs," Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said. "That's why you play. You play to go to the postseason and any year you don't make the playoffs you're very disappointed."
Playing in the mediocre Eastern Conference helped put the Pacers in the running for a postseason spot. They won four straight earlier this month, but couldn't beat lowly Charlotte on Saturday or a Washington team that played many of its reserves Monday.
"It's disappointing," said Indiana swingman Mike Dunleavy, who is second on the team with 18.9 points a contest.
With strong seasons from Granger and Dunleavy, the Pacers might have been able to sneak into the postseason if Jermaine O'Neal had been healthy. He missed 40 games with a left knee injury.
O'Neal had 22 points in his only game against New York this season, a 119-92 Indiana win on Dec. 17. The Pacers are 3-0 against the Knicks, giving them a chance to sweep the season series for the first time.
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