From the depths of the low, Isiah Thomas just won’t quit trying to get back up, even when his critics try to bury him in revisionist history. Just weeks after the death of his mother, Mary Thomas, Isiah was recently interviewed on WFAN’s “Boomer & Carton Show.” As recaptured in the Post, Isiah discussed his fall from grace as New York Knicks President and Coach and laid out a cogent argument for why the team was on the right track personnel wise and how he was absolutely derailed by the Anucha Brown sexual harassment trial.
Several Fanatics have argued over the last couple of years that Isiah was a lousy coach but that no man would have done well under the national scrutiny and public animus of the trial. However, his legacy as a President with a plan to rebuild the team’s asset base could not be fully evaluated until his players began to develop. And look at many of his selections now: Channing Frye is the staring center and a three point specialist for the Suns; Zach Randolph is an all-star with the winning Grizzlies; Jamal Crawford is the leading sixth man for the playoff bound Hawks; David Lee is an offensive force under serious all-star consideration; Wilson Chandler has become the promise of a forlorned franchise; and Jared Jeffries has turned out to be the defensive anchor responsible for the wins of a team that can barely play defense. (Nate Robinson has shown us what he can do in spurts, but D’Antoni has no idea how to exploit his talent.)
To the dismay of some current Knicks fans, Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni can’t seem to do much better, record wise, than Isiah even without the spectre of a trial.
Isiah, who is still very good friends with James Dolan, laid it out better than our man Modi could while publicly hoping that Walsh’s strategy for attracting LeBron will work, The following excerpts are courtesy of the Post’s transcription:
His tough time in New York: “I would read The Post … and I would say, ‘I know they aren’t talking about me.’ Because it was such a terrible time for my family and me personally and the things that they were writing and saying, you know they weren’t true. You just have to be strong and try to get through it.”
Why things didn’t work with Knicks: “As strange as this may sound, I thought we were really on the right track. When I got there, the cupboard was pretty bare, we were pretty depleted in talent, there weren’t a lot of people showing up at the arena, even though season tickets were bought people weren’t coming to the Garden anymore. We made some trades, the first year we made the playoffs and then we hired Lenny Wilkens, who did a great job. Then we brought Larry Brown in and things were getting better. We were drafting good, we had a good stock of players coming in, made trades that turned out to be pretty successful. We had a turbulent year with Larry, but for the most part we were headed in the right direction. We were gathering talent. Then the (sexual harassment) trial hit and we were coming off a year when we were five, six years out of the playoffs then at the end of the season everyone got hurt.”
His one regret: “The only thing I regret (Boomer: “Eddy Curry”) … No, I don’t regret Eddy Curry. When I was there he almost made the All-Star team, he was playing incredible basketball. Some of the things that happened to him off the court has really affected him. If I had to take back one thing that I did it was the signing of Jerome James. The reason why is because he was just so beat up … he was always injured. I remember I traded Nazr Mohammed to San Antonio, and I think (a newspaper) put the dunce cap on me, that (pick) ended up being David Lee, who should have been an All-Star this year. I took a lot of heat for the Zach Randolph trade; Zach’s an All-Star right now.”
On hiring Larry Brown: “I didn’t think our team was ready for him. We weren’t good enough to have a coach such as Larry. However, we thought that if Larry came for the two to three years to help us build a team like he is doing in Charlotte, and he’s doing a great job there, But I think New York got to Larry, just like it gets to a lot of people.”
On trading for Marbury: “When we looked at Stephon Marbury, a lot of that trade was made for salary. When I came in nobody was coming to the Garden, the building was empty and we had to get people there and Marbury did that.”
On his legacy: “I would like to be remembered accurately. I was a pioneer in this sport. Every job that I have taken I have been the first African-American to do it. Doing that at an executive level, it’s difficult when you are the pioneer. When you go into the executive office there are certain battles that you face, certain things that you go through. You may cut down the right tree, but lay the path for others to follow and I’m glad that we have more.”