Like a bad penny, Isiah Thomas tastes of copper and old blood. Also, getting rid of him is pretty hard. Stupidly, infuriatingly, ridiculously hard, it appears, because he's once again employed (at least part-time) by the New York Knicks.
Yep, the New York Knicks. The same franchise he stripmined, submarined and shattered during his lamentable 4 1/2-year tenure as president of basketball operations and, later, head coach. The same franchise that, under his stewardship, became the most expensive failure in American professional sport.
Thomas will serve as a "part-time consultant" to the team, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post, who first reported the news of Thomas' return to Madison Square Garden on Twitter. He "will assist the team's senior management in various capacities, including player recruitment," reprising the role he reportedly played in the Knicks' successful seduction of Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) and its considerably less successful attempt to lure LeBron James(notes), according to a joint statement released by the team. Quoth Dolan and Walsh:
Isiah Thomas brings unique experience as a Hall of Fame player, coach, executive and owner, and we believe having him as part of our organization will be extremely beneficial to the team's success ...
He brings "unique experience." As Sports Illustrated scribe Chris Ballard joked, "Yes, that is one way to put it."
Another? He brings "ineptitude-sparked, irreversible doom for all he touches."
A third? He brings "out the worst in all of us, regardless of purity of heart or best intentions."
One more for the road? He brings "all the GUHHHHH to the yard, and they're like, it's GUHHHHH-er than yours."
As you might imagine given the jaw-dropping, meritless and unbelievable nature of this return to a front-office position, Thomas is stoked to be back in the saddle.
"I'm excited to once again be a part of the New York Knicks organization. I was honored to have been asked to help during the recent free-agent recruiting process, and believe that this new role takes full advantage of my skill set as an evaluator of basketball talent. [...]
"While I will of course continue in my role as FIU's coach, I look forward to working with Donnie (Walsh), Coach (Mike) D'Antoni and all of the Knicks staff to help bring a championship back to New York.
I'm sure we'll hear plenty more on that last point — the curious arrangement that will apparently allow Isiah to draw a part-time paycheck from Cablevision while retaining his job as head basketball coach at Florida International University, which Dolan and Walsh said would "continue to be his primary responsibility" — because as FanHouse's Tom Ziller noted, it sure sounds "like a NCAA violation waiting to happen." NBA.com's Art Garcia quotes a league spokesman as saying the NBA is "reviewing the agreement, in consultation with the Knicks, for compliance with league rules."
And under normal circumstances, we might spend some time debating whether or not a man could satisfactorily serve two such demanding masters as an NBA franchise and a Division I college basketball program. But knowing as we do how utterly incapable Thomas is of serving one, let's just let that concern pass. Five gets you 10 this ends badly for at least one party involved; far more likely, everyone gets burned. Because that's what happens when you introduce Isiah Thomas into a management role in a basketball organization. One way or another, and sooner rather than later, it'll end in tears.
Knicks fans know that all too well. They thought they'd escaped Thomas' clutches once before, back in April 2008, when Dolan hired Walsh — former architect of an unprecedented run of success for longtime Garden villains the Indiana Pacers — to replace Thomas as the Knicks' president of basketball operations. The call to the bullpen came after Thomas' dismal 4 1/2-year stint at the helm, an abysmal stretch chock full of indefensible spending, future-and-flexibility-obliterating trades and heaping helpings of demoralizing defeat. (Oh, and truck parties. Can't forget truck parties.)
Walsh removed Thomas as the Knicks' coach, banned him from having any contact with the team and reassigned him to a nebulous role as sort of a consultant/traveling scout/de-emphasized team ambassador. A year later, Thomas landed the FIU gig, and the nightmare was over. Kind of. He's "remained close" with Dolan, Berman reports, "kept his house in Westchester" and continued to keep the owner's ear.
Then we were hearing that he was involved in free-agent recruiting. Then Walsh said he'd consider Isiah for the team's vacant general manager position. Then he was spending hours meeting with organizational brass at MSG — meetings about which Walsh said he knew nothing. And now, he's back. Back in the New York groove. (I'm really, really sorry, Ace.) Whether you like it or not.
Setting aside the bad penny taste this is likely to leave in the mouths of everyone who's ever rooted for the Knicks, it could also create dissension in the ranks, according to Newsday's Alan Hahn, who calls the hire "a dangerous move."
"Isiah's input is one thing, but his official presence causes an uneasiness in the organization that has made great strides," Hahn wrote on Twitter. "[The] fact is it will be impossible now to convince anyone this is merely a consultant role. Let's see what is behind this move."
Multiple reports have cited the close relationship between Thomas and Dolan, who appears utterly devoted to helping his former charge rehabilitate the image he tainted through his myriad failures in management, coaching and not-getting-found-guilty-of-committing-sexual-harassment. You have to assume some nature of personal kindness is behind this move; frankly, it seems unthinkable that there could be any other motivation.
Whatever the cause, the fact remains — brainscorching and unfathomable as it may seem — that Isiah Thomas works for the New York Knicks. A franchise that only now, after a summer spent restocking a roster once left nearly devoid of talent — a free-agency and trade-fueled shopping trip made possible by a two-year post-Zeke crash diet to get under the salary cap — finally appeared able to look toward a brighter future.
Instead, Knicks fans get force-fed a bitter reminder of their depressing recent past.