As ‘Melo arrives, Zeke hides in shadows

NEW YORK – Isiah Thomas has privately grumbled the world hasn’t given him his due as de facto street agent for the New York Knicks, that there were no bouquets for his imaginary recruitment of Amar’e Stoudemire(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes). He has brokered his bull on Knicks owner James Dolan, on the false prophecy that Chris Paul(notes) is a wide-eyed teenager eventually willing to come out of love and loyalty to his childhood idol.

From immortal player to NBA president, GM and coach, Thomas has completed his transformation into a two-bit AAU middleman peddling contrived influence to a sad, lonely delusional Dolan. Thomas is taking his hat off to himself today, on his way to getting Florida International’s backend kicked at Western Kentucky.

Isiah Thomas has continued to wield considerable influence with Knicks owner James Dolan since he was fired.
(Getty Images)

This is a transformative day for the Knicks, with Carmelo Anthony on the way to his Wednesday night debut at Madison Square Garden. Dolan could’ve listened to Donnie Walsh, waited longer and given up less, but the owner let Thomas and Anthony’s agents rush him into unloading everything the Nuggets wanted in the deal. This is still a great day for the Knicks, but it would’ve been so much greater if Dolan and Thomas weren’t so destructive.

Thomas has gone deep with William Wesley and CAA, an unholy alliance born out of the worst elements of this lecherous industry. New York made all the sense in the world for Anthony, and he never needed Worldwide Wes, nor Isiah, to illuminate the possibilities for him. If Thomas sold Anthony on the New York Knicks – as he privately insists – it was because ‘Melo believed Isiah’s incompetence had left for South Florida and left New York to an accomplished pro, Walsh.

Stoudemire, Anthony and Paul can differentiate between a historic player and a con looking to use them as a prop to climb back to relevance. As do the rest of us, they understand about Thomas: He’s a Hall of Fame talent, an immortal NBA champion and a duplicitous person. It is a window into the blackened heart of Dolan that he’s so loyal to Thomas, so indebted to a man that’s responsible for nothing but darkness and disarray with the Knicks.

Here’s why the Knicks have Stoudemire and Anthony today: Walsh’s ability to clear cap space and sheer good fortune of geography. Nothing to do with Thomas, nor the laughable tale that Thomas is spinning about his close relationship with Stoudemire’s AAU coach. Maybe it helped John Calipari when Stoudemire gave him that long-ago verbal commitment for Memphis, but here’s a little secret: The Knicks weren’t recruiting a teenager to a renegade school, but a seasoned NBA All-Star with uninsurable knees. For this important mission, they enlisted the Garden’s best recruiter of all: the $100 million guaranteed contract.

It was engaging, charming and made such a compelling case to Stoudemire.

“Seriously, who the [expletive] is Isiah kidding with this [expletive],” says a source involved in the Knicks’ free-agent recruiting process.

Thomas recruited Anthony to the Knicks? If anyone did, it was Stoudemire. Words don’t lure in the NBA, results and track record and locales do. Amar’e made it easy for ‘Melo to come to New York. Stoudemire showed up, changed the locker room, the losing dispositions, and embraced the burden of leadership the way no Knick had in a long time. ‘Melo will be a star in New York, but Stoudemire has grown in ways that Anthony never has and probably never will. Stoudemire has that curiosity needed to grow himself, to learn, to expand his boundaries, and that’s how a follower makes himself a leader in sports.

Stoudemire shredded the labels that lingered from his earlier days in Phoenix. Truth be told, he’s been more productive and accountable and gracious for the Knicks in seven months than Thomas had been in seven years on the job. Stoudemire shares so much more in common with Walsh than he does Isiah.

And it’ll break Stoudemire’s heart should Walsh end up leaving on June 30. Perhaps Dolan will ask Walsh to stay as team president before his contract expires, but Walsh has to know that Thomas’ undermining will never end. Walsh set out to bring back the Knicks, and he’s gone a long way toward doing it. This Dolan-Thomas cesspool is no place for a renaissance man in the winter of his career.

Walsh hasn’t been perfect for the Knicks, but what makes it worse is that Thomas is so cold-blooded to try and obliterate a man who gave him $20 million and a coaching job when Thomas’ world as Continental Basketball Association owner had collapsed around him.

This is a most brazen bid to not so much rewrite history – but un-write it. Yet, ‘Melo arrives, and Thomas still won’t leave the room. He had his chance, and it failed in ways few had ever failed in the profession.

Once, Thomas brought Dolan with him on a comic-strip recruiting mission of Kobe Bryant(notes): Together, they traveled to California armed with an electric offer: Come take the midlevel exception for a chance to play with Stephon Marbury(notes). Somehow, Bryant decided to re-sign a max deal with the Los Angeles Lakers and keep winning championships. Yes, Thomas failed miserably as the Knicks president and coach, and now he’s failing those poor kids at Florida International.

Still, Dolan has let Thomas back into the game, into the Garden, and allowed him to exercise his favorite activity: an escape from reality. His college program is lousy, on its way to a second straight season of 20 losses, and now Thomas gets influence over Dolan and Walsh. He so prefers to play make-believe recruiter for the Knicks than do the real work obligated of him at Florida International.

When asked on Tuesday how much involvement Thomas had in the Anthony trade, Walsh jabbed, “I’m assuming Isiah’s getting ready for the NCAA tournament.”

March Madness has come soon for Isiah Thomas. He’s reaching down for James Dolan to hand him the scissors so he can cut down the nets for his mythical championship recruitment of Carmelo Anthony. In so many ways, Dolan and Isiah deserve each other. And yet, what did the New York Knicks ever do to deserve them?

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011