It doesn't really matter if James Dolan decides to rehire Isiah Thomas. We can whine and kvetch and wring dem hands, but the Knicks have already been Zeke'd. The owner can lunch with his former GM/Prez/coach/consultant all he wants, and Isiah can send out all manner of hints that makes it sound as if he has more important things to do besides get paid to do for Dolan what he's already doing for Dolan, and none of it means a damn thing. The Knicks are in far better shape, literally and figuratively, than they were with Isiah directly running the show; but this team is Isiah Thomas'. You know that. You better learn to be OK with that.
James Dolan runs MSG, and he runs the New York Knicks. And because he knows absolutely nothing about basketball, he leans on Isiah Thomas for insight. And because he knows nothing about basketball, he thinks that Isiah Thomas is the sort of guy to lean on for basketball insight. James Dolan has been more or less leaning on Isiah since 2003, with a slight back off from that stance from 2008 until February of 2011, and the Knicks have been consistently Knicks-y throughout. Always famous, always full of obvious headlines, always capped out.
This is all an apparent "thing" because respected MSG sports president Scott O'Neil resigned last week, and Dolan enjoyed what apparently was a delightful lunch with Isiah whilst guarded by an MSG security detail on Friday. The meeting was first reported by Marc Berman of the New York Post, and then on Sunday Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reported that there was "no doubt" Thomas would again be part of the paid Knick crew once a few off-court pursuits had sorted themselves out.
And there can be no doubt that the man's fingerprints are all over this team.
It's been that way since just before the 2011 trade deadline, when the Knicks shepherded a shepherd-load of assets to the Denver Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Anthony could have been had, along with some creative financing, the following offseason for a contract worth much less — and anyone following the NBA and its impending lockout knew as much at the time — but Isiah the Caddy decided to go for the green and the Knicks have been trying to make it work ever since. Former GM Donnie Walsh, now aware of his station, stepped back soon after.
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Glen Grunwald jumped in his place, and late last season Mike Woodson took over Mike D'Antoni's head coaching spot. Both were former teammates of Isiah's in Indiana, and Grunwald once worked under Thomas with the Toronto Raptors. These things don't happen by accident, and it bears repeating that if Grunwald had any basketball sway over his bossiest of bosses, Jeremy Lin would still be a New York Knick.
Lin was O'Neil's guy. He championed him at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last spring, and reportedly wanted nothing to do with the re-hiring of Thomas (or the aborted attempt to re-hire Isiah as a consultant in August of 2010). Apparently just the idea of keeping Thomas around as an unpaid consultant was tolerable enough for O'Neil following that 2010 flirtation with official status, but the combined shock of losing Lin and Thomas' lingering presence was probably too much for the guy.
And too much Thomas is never enough for Dolan, though you get the feeling the Knicks are at a saturation point with Isiah.
Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire are up front, this time, instead of Jerome James and Eddy Curry. It's Carmelo Anthony that is flinging 20-footers, not Jamal Crawford, and the ancient vets this time around are the well-respected Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby, instead of Jalen Rose and Antonio Davis. The Knicks might be capped out, Jeremy Lin might be in Houston, and the vaunted (and well-heeled) frontline of Chandler, Stoudemire and Anthony remains an uneasy fit; but on paper this squad is a significant presence even with Isiah's fingerprints still smudging a few corners.
This — and the early September blahs that tend to mark every NBA offseason — are why Knick fans greeted the Thomas/Dolan meeting with a collective shrug over the weekend. The Knicks don't have many pieces to move, no cap space to waste, no exceptions to toss at those who deserve half as much. The damage, both good and bad, has been done; and even if that chemistry never comes about a healthy Knick team should be expected to eclipse 50 wins.
Myriad factors, most involving the much-needed rebuild that Donnie Walsh helped usher in back in 2008, went into this; but Isiah (both in drafting one of the assets since sent to Denver) and strange instances of good timing (better players on the market than existed under Isiah's reign, Stoudemire's injury which helped the team's defensive emergence, if not resurgence, under Woodson) also played a part. There's no doubt that most Knicks fans are worried about this name-heavy roster, but the Knicks are in a better place right now, and there's not much left for Isiah — and by extension, Dolan — to screw up.
We think. They've surprised us before.
Just don't act surprised when it's officially announced, via press release and not press conference. Isiah's been lurking all along; the only eventual difference is that he'll have a place in the payroll, and in your game program.
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