Isiah Thomas – Back in a New York Minute

Things that make you go hmmm…

That was my reaction today when I heard Isiah Thomas, current Florida International University men’s basketball coach and former New York Knicks GM and head coach, is returning to the New York Knicks as a consultant. While I don’t know the relationship between Isiah Thomas and the Knicks ownership this is either an extremely questionable move or a very calculated move.

 First, let me say that Isiah was a great point guard. He led my beloved Detroit Pistons to two NBA Championships (’88-’89 & ’89-’90). He was a pit bull on the court and would flash his 1,000 watt smile off the court. He put the “bad” in bad boy and his Chicago competitive roots were always on display for the world to see. Now he’s known to have strained and on again off again relationships with former players and those players not wanting to have anything to do with him.

Former LA Lakers great, Magic Johnson, stated in his book When The Game Was Ours, “‘Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the Olympics. Nobody on that team wanted to play with him. … Michael [Jordan] didn’t want to play with him. Scottie [Pippen] wanted no part of him. Bird wasn’t pushing for him. Karl Malone didn’t want him. Who was saying, ‘We need this guy?’ Nobody.” Ouch. These comments are a long way away from the “kiss heard around the world” between Magic and Isiah during the ’88 NBA Finals.

Ok, so putting Isiah’s athletic talent aside and what he contributed to the league as a player let’s get down to the matter at hand. Is this a good move for the Knicks, and is his new position a conflict of interest?

Under Isiah’s tenure from 2004 – 2008 the Knicks had a .368 winning percentage. They reached the playoffs in his first season but then failed to make the playoffs in all later seasons. The team just didn’t win games and (I hate to say it) was the doormat of the league.

 The draft picks didn’t get any better either. The most notable successful draft pick was David Lee who was the 30th pick in the 2005 draft. All other draft picks just haven’t worked out. While I know that drafting a player can be like rolling the dice, but the Knicks have passed on many guys that turned out to be great players. Rajon Rondo, Glenn “Big Baby” Davis, and Jordan Farmar were all passed up by the Knicks and went on the play in the2010 NBA Finals.  

Along with the on the court woes, there also is the issue of the sexual harassment case that put a black eye on the organization. At least in my opinion it did. Madison Square Garden had to pay $6 million in damages for a hostile work environment and $2.6 million for retaliation. Knicks owner was also required to pay $3 million. In total the team (or the fans depending on which way you look at it) had to pay $11.6 million in damages. I guess what’s $11.6 million between friends?

At the end of the day Knicks fans were extremely unhappy with Isiah and the team was not performing. After Isiah’s departure Donnie Walsh, Knicks President, and Mike D’Antoni, Knicks Head Coach, were brought in to move the organization forward. Is this blast from the past what the team and new leadership needs?

There have been rumors that Isiah was instrumental in bringing in free agent, Amare Stouemire to NYC. And Isiah said it himself that he was sent by James Dolan to meet with the LeBron camp – who knows maybe Isiah almost sealed the deal. If all of that is true there might be a stronger argument for bringing Isiah back.

That was the issue of performance. Now there also the issue of a college Division 1 men’s basketball coach having an official capacity with the NBA. I always thought that this was a no-no, and that the league and NCAA had strict rules against this. Now I’ll have to get up to speed on the NCAA rules, but one thing that I know for sure is that the NCAA is constantly emphasizing that it is an organization for amateurs. And the NCAA does their best to limit player contact with NBA scouts, executives, and of course agents. Doesn’t this decision go against what the NCAA is trying to promote?

Having said that – the NBA has its own sets of rules, and one huge rule that Thomas will have to break is contact with draft eligible players. He’ll be in contact with his own players and presumably players from other teams. In my opinion it would be too difficult to separate the two positions, and this can open the flood gates for larger issues within the NCAA and NBA. More D1 coaches will want to create “official” relationships with NBA teams thinking this will assist with their recruiting.

Now if the NBA and NCAA want to agree (and I don’t think they ever will) that the NCAA in many respects is the fulfilling the role of the development league (Case in point. Look at the record number of “one and done” Kentucky Wildcat players that were drafted in 2010). And if both parties want to change the rules in light of this, then the situation with Isiah having dual roles is a different story. Until something like this happens I just see this become a bigger issue. If professional ranks and amateur ranks are meant to be separated, then it should stay that way.    

Well, I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. Either way I wish Isiah and the Knick all the best. I’m tired of them being so bad and so are the die-hard Knicks fans. The Garden is such an historic arena with vast sports nostalgia that I hate to see so many poor performances taking place there. So bring on the wins – and do it in a New York Minute.

Good Night Sports Fans,


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