Scott Layden ducked every controversy Wednesday and left the comic relief to his new underling, Jeff Van Gundy, as the New York Knicks introduced their new brain trust.
Layden, who spent 18 years with the Utah Jazz, joins the Knicks as general manager and executive vice president. Van Gundy, who has survived four mostly tumultuous seasons as coach of the Knicks, got a multi-year contract extension lasting at least through the 2002-03 season.
"I keep having these press conferences to say I'm still here," Van Gundy said, "and here I am."
Layden was chosen for the job over Ed Tapscott, the Knicks player personnel director who had been performing the general manager's duties on an interim basis since the end of the NBA Finals.
Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts said he interviewed other candidates, all of whom were "all too willing to give their opinions" on Knicks personnel and the way the offense was run last season.
"I made this decision because the chemistry between the two of them is exactly what this organization needed," said Checketts, who met with Layden last weekend and convinced him to take over the Knicks.
Layden will be Van Gundy's boss and will have a say on personnel moves equal to that of his predecessor, Ernie Grunfeld, who was ousted by Checketts in April because a rift had developed between GM and coach.
"I will have the final say, but I see it as a teamwork effort," Layden said.
Layden diplomatically refused to discuss any specifics related to the Knicks, be it Latrell Sprewell's history, Patrick Ewing's reduced role or the possibility that Charles Oakley might be reacquired. Layden said he needed to discuss those matters internally first.
Layden also would not say whether he'd maintain some of the philosophical standards he employed in Utah, such as refusing as a matter of principle to stash players on the injured list.
Layden also refused to give his take on the Knicks' turmoil-filled 1999 season.
The Knicks were 21-21 with eight games left and Grunfeld was reassigned. New York went on to defeat Miami, Atlanta and Indiana in the playoffs before losing 4-1 in the finals to the San Antonio Spurs.
"My focus is to look forward, and I don't know the details of what went on," Layden said. "It'd be foolish from my perspective to dwell on the past."
Van Gundy said he expected to take the same roster to training camp in October while also disclosing that he's "leaning" toward moving Sprewell into the starting lineup on a permanent basis.
Sprewell seethed last season as Van Gundy kept him in a sixth man role until the Eastern Conference finals. Sprewell will be entering the final season of his contract, and could choose to play it out and become a free agent if he is returned to a reserve role.
Checketts said the Knicks are eager to sign Sprewell to a contract etension that will keep him in New York well into the next decade.
Tapscott, who was considered to be aligned with Grunfeld, is expected to discuss his future role with Layden and Checketts in the coming days.
"His association with Ernie had very little to do with this decision," Checketts said.
Checketts said race had nothing to do with him choosing Layden, who is white, over Tapscott, who is black.
"This is not about race or ethnic origin, it's not about sending messages," Checketts said, "it's about making the right decision for this organization."
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