LOS ANGELES – The thin veil of secrecy has torn away now, the pretenses gone and Isiah Thomas has left the shadows and moved into the light again. Once more, he is the New York Knicks’ top basketball executive.
Thomas is driving everything through owner James Dolan – the trade for Carmelo Anthony(notes), the departure of Donnie Walsh and perhaps even the eventual hiring of the New York Knicks’ next president and general manager, multiple league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
“Isiah is calling the shots for New York,” said one front-office executive with knowledge of the Anthony trade talks. “It’s a disgrace. Donnie should walk.”
Thomas wouldn’t blink. After all, that’s his plan: He wants Walsh to leave out of sheer frustration because of Thomas’ meddling, or because Dolan doesn’t pick up the option on his contract in April. For a franchise with a history of inexplicable dysfunction, even this is an episode for the Madison Square Garden time capsule.
Dolan has overruled Walsh in these trade talks and undermined his authority. Walsh has never wanted to give away Raymond Felton(notes) for an aging Chauncey Billups(notes) and throw Danilo Gallinari(notes) into the package, too. This is all Isiah, all his influence.
Thomas doesn’t believe Dolan is inclined to give him his job back, but it almost doesn’t matter anymore. In a moment of truth for this Knicks franchise, in the biggest trade they’ve tried to make in years, Isiah Thomas, the coach of Florida International University, has emerged as the de facto GM.
Eventually, Anthony will likely end up with the Knicks, and Thomas plans to take full credit with Dolan for delivering him. He’s worn out Dolan with the idea that Walsh is too old to recruit the biggest stars to New York, that he can’t connect with them. This is complete nonsense. What sells New York isn’t the GM, but cap space, the Garden and a magnificent teammate and leader like Amar’e Stoudemire(notes). Thomas is forever selling revisionist history and out-and-out lies to an audience of one: Dolan.
For months, Thomas has privately insisted that Walsh was done with the Knicks this spring. His option must be exercised by April 30 and that still hasn’t happened. Thomas believes it’s never happening, and believes he can install a puppet regime through Dolan to replace Walsh. This way he can eliminate the middleman. “He wants his own guy in that office, someone he can have some control over,” a league source said.
Thomas had a plan to run the Knicks again, and it failed a year ago: When Dolan pushed Walsh to bring back the disgraced executive as the Knicks general manager, Walsh reacted with the threat of resignation. This was pure lunacy, a plan hatched out of the incompetence of Dolan, out of the deviousness of Thomas.
The NBA rejected a compromise to let Thomas serve as a Knicks consultant and the coach of FIU. Dolan insisted he would keep conferring with Thomas, and he told the truth. Only now, he listens more to Thomas than he does Walsh.
Thomas has pushed Dolan to let Walsh’s contract expire on June 30 and hire a new executive to run the Knicks. Thomas plans to furnish Dolan with candidates, a source said. He thinks he can get a candidate hired from the outside, but there will be a brawl inside before that happens.
The fight for power could come between Thomas and William Wesley – Worldwide Wes. He’s an agent for CAA, the powerbroker agency connected as a rep of star players, executives and coaches. He pushed for Mark Warkentien’s hiring as a high-level consultant to Walsh, has strong ties to Knicks assistant GM Allan Houston(notes) and he’s one of the main reps for Anthony and 2012 free agent Chris Paul(notes). It’s against NBA rules to rep players and coaches, but commissioner David Stern picks and chooses the rules he enforces. He lets Worldwide Wes travel with his Olympic teams, gain access to stars, steal them away and broker them to the commissioner’s market franchises.
Stern ought to be ashamed of himself for letting this happen to Walsh. He pushed Dolan and Walsh together three years ago to clean up Thomas’ toxic mess, to restore a measure of honor and dignity to the Garden. Walsh did the job, and now Dolan is one more owner with so little respect for the commissioner and his franchise’s fans that he’s allowed Thomas to emerge as a Knicks powerbroker again.
The front office is still stocked with Thomas loyalists, including Glen Grunwald and Rodney Heard. Heard was responsible for the illegal workouts under Thomas’ regime, but Walsh has never been allowed to fire him because of Thomas’ relationship with him. Heard, an East Coast scouting director, had a chance to leave for an assistant GM’s job with the Minnesota Timberwolves over the summer, but stayed because, as he privately told friends in the league, “Isiah is coming back.”
Only, Isiah Thomas never truly left the New York Knicks. From across the country on All-Star weekend, on a South Florida college campus, Thomas keeps pushing the big trade for the big Denver Nuggets star. Thomas has always bragged to Dolan about how close he is with ’Melo and how he’s sold the star on a future with the Knicks. It’s pure nonsense and pure gold for Thomas.
Walsh wanted to see the Knicks back into the playoffs, and this is the year it happens. They aren’t chasing a championship, but they’ve returned to respectability and are in contention. Walsh had a smart, shrewd and patient plan to get Anthony. There were limits to the price to be paid for ’Melo, and Dolan has let Thomas exceed them in these contract talks. He’s humiliated Walsh, who, sources said, could still return to the Indiana Pacers as president should Larry Bird retire this summer.
Walsh’s peers are embarrassed for him, but no one is too surprised. James Dolan has forever lusted for Thomas, and no level of shame, no humiliation, no embarrassment can keep them apart. The Knicks are giving up far too much for Anthony, and that doesn’t end with the players in the proposed package. Dolan sold this franchise’s soul a long time ago, and now that old, failed partnership is promising a second act that comes straight out of hell.
Carmelo Anthony could be on the way to New York, Donnie Walsh could be on the way out, and one thing has never been so certain: Isiah Thomas has big, big ideas for the future of the franchise.