James Dolan, taking no questions. (Getty Images)
New York Knick owner James Dolan is widely reviled in NBA circles for numerous offenses, the top of which is his mishandling of the once-proud basketball outfit that works out of the league’s largest city. Since taking greater control of the Knicks in 2001, Dolan has presided over a miserable tenure from his MSG perch, watching as New York failed to make the playoffs in nine of the last 13 seasons, while burning through seven head coaches and five different general managers. All along the way Dolan has spent ridiculous amounts of money on players that had no chance of living up to their price tag, while Dolan friend and longtime personnel chief Isiah Thomas seemingly having his fingerprints over every one of the team’s daffier moves.
In media circles, Dolan has angered all manner of press corps by staffing MSG employees to sit in on every interaction between an interviewer and Knick players or coaches. Longtime MSG voice of the Knicks Marv Albert was let go by the team in 2004 after Knicks executives chafed at his criticism of that year’s squad, and Dolan himself hasn’t given an interview in seven years despite really badly needing to explain to his fans just why he’s treated their favorite team like this.
Feeling an itch, apparently, Dolan decided to sit down with the New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro recently for a surprising question and answer session. The Post is often ridiculed for acting as Dolan’s mouthpiece, but Vaccaro is a respected columnist who seems above such favors (though one can conclude that this was a pretty mild Q&A), and while Dolan bordered on self parody while hyping up his ridiculous “I have money who wants to form a band”-attempts at becoming a blues legend (his group JD and the Straight Shot was recently afforded an opening gig with the Eagles, but only because of Dolan’s close professional and personal ties with longtime Eagles manager Irving Azoff), he does come off somewhat well in the piece.
Which makes you wonder which parts those MSG staffers had the Post snip out.
Dolan begins by expressing hope that Madison Square Garden can remain in its current iteration and location in spite of the city’s hopes to relocate the building to accommodate a Penn Station renovation in ten years. Vaccaro then asks about the future of Knick coach Mike Woodson, who has presided over a frustrating 3-8 season thus far. The Knick owner pointed out that he has “a lot of confidence in Woodson” and points out that the Knicks coach has earned his players respect.
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Of course, Dolan somewhat tipped his hand in telling Vaccaro that “when a coach loses a team … that’s when a coach is kind of done.” No word on what Dolan’s personal take on “losing a team” would entail.
When asked why the Knicks went against NBA protocol by firing former general manager Glen Grunwald just days before training camp, after Grunwald had presided over New York’s most successful season in years, and after running the team throughout the transaction-heavy offseason, Dolan weirdly suggested that it didn’t matter what part of the NBA calendar year that teams hire and fire GMs before discussing the differences between Grunwald and new GM Steve Mills:
Glen is more of a “classic” GM, and he just wasn’t the guy to lead this initiative for the team, and it had to be someone in that position who could do it because I wasn’t going to do it. It needed someone behind it, someone who understood it, and that just wasn’t Glen’s forte. I think he was a good general manager, he’s got a great eye for talent, he knows basketball well, but the job description changed.
The job description hasn’t changed. Mills has no real basketball scouting experience, and while it’s nice to have ties with significant representative agencies as Mills does, one still has to build a team with parts procured through smart basketball analysis. Money and ties alone, especially with the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, won’t be enough to secure a big star if and when the Knicks ever have enough cap space to – and that’s only presuming we’re talking about different stars, and not just retaining Anthony when he could become a free agent in 2014 or 2015.
Because if Dolan only dumped Grunwald to curry favor with Anthony, whom he believes “can get us [to a championship],” then this is a pretty awful move. No matter the timing.
Dolan was asked if he regretted handing Amar’e Stoudemire a massive contract in 2010, one the Phoenix Suns (who nearly made it to the NBA Finals that year with Stoudemire) declined to match after being told his knees only had one or two good years left. The owner said he did not regret the contract, which is understandable given his reasoning – the boffo free agent class of 2010 was spiraling all around that signing, and the Knicks had to throw cash at someone after Miami established its Big Three. And he’s probably right to conclude that Stoudemire’s presence helped the Knicks land Anthony after he forced a trade the following year, and Tyson Chandler; both of whom have had great initial runs as Knicks.
Eventually, Vaccaro got to the frightening part. Is Isiah Thomas in New York’s plans in the future? Would Dolan bring Thomas back to work with Mills in reversed roles that they shared from 2003 to 2008?
MV: Do you still consult him, too, about basketball ideas?
JD: Not really. For Isiah, I don’t know that he’ll ever be able to work in New York. I just don’t know that he’ll ever get a fair shake, going forward in New York?
MV: Do you think that’s unfair? He did lose a lot of games here.
JD: He lost a lot of games! OK. Do I think he deserves another shot? Yeah. It just can’t be here. And I think he’s talented. I think he’s particularly talented at finding basketball talent. But I think he’s probably dismayed at this point. But I don’t see him coming back to New York. I couldn’t do that to him, and I couldn’t do that to the organization. He would probably do it as my friend but I couldn’t do it to him or his family. And you know what the press would do here. We’re interested in getting better and that situation would be such a distraction that it would actually hinder our ability to get better.
You’ll recall that Dolan attempted to re-hire Thomas after former GM Donnie Walsh cleared Isiah’s awful contracts off the Knicks’ cap and pounced on Stoudemire, who responded with a fantastic first year in New York. As Thomas was currently under contract as coach at Florida International at the time, the NBA said the agreement could not stand. The Knicks then went on to their first playoff appearance in seven years.
Dolan acquits himself well in the interview, besides the embarrassing music career curios, but don’t let this get away from you.
His ego, absence of tact, and abject inability to judge and analyze the game of basketball at this level has created a monster in New York that isn’t going to much better any time soon. He’s treated employees like dirt, let fan favorites walk away to other teams because of petty personal reasons, and watched as Thomas (and, by extension, star guard Stephon Marbury) were dragged into a sexual harassment suit that Isiah and the team eventually lost. This year’s roster may right the ship and drag itself into the playoffs eventually, the talent is still there on that $88 million (not counting luxury taxes) payroll; but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the New York Knicks are an NBA laughingstock.
All because things started at the top. At least he’s somewhat making himself accessible, now.
See you in 2020, James.
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