Isiah Thomas has decided to back away from his consultancy deal with Jim Dolan and the New York Knicks while still the coach at FIU. In a statement which also included a statement of regret at the Knicks failure to succeed during his tenure as President of Basketball Operations, he said:
After speaking with Commissioner [David] Stern and Knicks executives, it has become apparent that my new agreement violates certain NBA bylaws. Because of this, I have decided to rescind my contract with the team. I have nothing but the utmost respect for [owner] Jim Dolan, [GM] Donnie Walsh, [coach] Mike D’Antoni and the entire Knicks organization, and I want to thank them for affording me this opportunity. One of the biggest regrets of my life is that the Knicks didn’t perform up to the standards the fans had every right to expect while I was in charge. I take full responsibility for that. I was very much looking forward to this unique opportunity to help the organization do what I do best: find basketball talent. I wish the team nothing but success in the future.
Is this the end of the Isiah Thomas-James Dolan official professional relationship? Many Knicks fans are prematurely breathing a sign of relief because of the false comfort of not having Isiah Thomas officially associated with the Knicks. However, this episode should be taken as a warning that James Dolan will run the team the way he sees fit regardless of what the media states and some fans cry. Dolan is not one for giving up and if he wants to have Isiah officially associated with the Knicks, it is going to happen.
Dolan may have made an odd mistake here by not consulting the league office or doing his due diligence on the NBA side before making his relationship with Isiah official. Obviously when he agreed with Stern that Walsh would become the face of the Knicks, it was a temporary deal to give the NBA a little more control over its prize franchise and to kill the media furor caused by the poor administrative management from ownership. It would have made too much sense to tell Stern that he was bringing Isiah back now incrementally. It is incredible that Stern was not previously aware of the move. I’m guessing he knew but was not really prepared for the media backlash. If Dolan did not tell Stern in advance, the Knicks’ owner must not be happy with the commissioner or the production of Walsh and D’Antoni which he would see as an epic fail at this point. All Dolan got from the deal was two years (and possibly a third) of lousy basketball, an uninsurable $100 Million contract, no LeBron and a coach that doesn’t emphasize defense. He could be mad enough to bring back Isiah without telling the commissioner, but that would make no sense given the number of Knicks administrative hires that came from the league office.
What is also notable is that Isiah “rescinded” his acceptance of the contract instead of Stern giving an order. Undoubtedly Stern gave him the option probably in order to avoid heightening the embarrassment for Isiah and Dolan. Isiah’s pre-emptive retreat may also have been favorable towards the NBA which would have been forced to look into the myriad of questionable relationships between college coaches and professional basketball teams. Such a gracious retreat allows all parties to live another day to find another way to get Isiah back into league or with the Knicks.
Isiah had previously stated in numerous interviews that he regretted his unsuccessful tenure at MSG. He did it again in his retreat statement. It almost smelled of an apology which has become the most common strategy, coupled with rehab, to get the media to soften up on a media target. With that statement, Thomas not only showed concern about the NBA rules, but acknowledged the fan uproar at his contract and their probable impact of an impeding negative decision. Such a nod to the fan base is a tell tale sign that a return is in the plans if not imminent. Thomas will not give up and Dolan will not let the media run his team. Beware.
Truthfully, Isiah should be very happy that his contract must be voided. It made little sense public relations-wise for him to officially join the Knicks before the Walsh regime is certified a success or a complete failure. If Isiah was around and the team floundered in the early going, he would take the hit. If it succeeds and Amar’e is studly in his approach to the game, Isiah will receive none of the credit. If Dolan is going to bring Isiah back to replace Dolan who has done his term loyally to Stern even through illness, he can wait and allow Isiah to concentrate on his job at FIU which should be full-time anyway.
This was clearly an odd episode, but it is also pretty certain that Dolan just telegraphed his Isiah covered punch.