NEW YORK -- Scott Layden was fired Monday as president of
the New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas was hired to replace him.
The move comes after New York missed the playoffs the past two
seasons with a roster largely assembled by Layden. The Knicks are
10-18 this season, and recent speculation centered on coach Don
Chaney possibly losing his job.
Instead, the odd man out is Layden, who replaced Ernie Grunfeld
in the summer of 1999 after the Knicks were coming off an
appearance in the NBA Finals.
"This was a very difficult decision for us to make," said
James Dolan, the chairman of the team's corporate owner,
Cablevision. "Scott is a good man who worked tirelessly for the
Knicks over the last few years."
Thomas has been out of the NBA since being fired over the summer
by the Indiana Pacers, where he was the coach for three seasons.
"I want to stay in coaching," Thomas told the AP last month.
"I enjoy it. I had a great deal of success helping shape and mold
young people, making the playoffs with the youngest team to do it
in 25 years. I got bit by the bug.
"I'll wait for my next opportunity," he said. "I wouldn't
rule out college but I prefer the pro game."
Thomas will get his first look at his new team Tuesday night
when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit Madison Square Garden.
Thomas' first task will be evaluating a roster with the league's
highest payroll and deciding whether any of those massive contracts
can be moved in a trade.
"Isiah is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of
the NBA and we believe he is the right person to lead this team
into the future," Dolan said. "His set of skills and experience
will reinvigorate this team to achieve our only goal -- delivering a
championship-caliber team to all Knicks fans."
Layden's last major move was the four-team deal that sent
Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota and brought Keith Van Horn to New
York. The deal has appeared to favor the Timberwolves during the
first two months of the season. Sprewell has averaged 17.2 points
for Minnesota while Van Horn has struggled, averaging 14.8 points
and getting benched for the fourth quarter of several recent games.
Before the Van Horn trade, Layden's biggest move came on draft
night in 2002 when he sent Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson and the
Knicks' lottery pick to Denver for Antonio McDyess.
McDyess fractured his kneecap in an exhibition game and missed
the entire 2002-03 season, finally returning 11 games ago.
With the Knicks losing regularly while failing to draw the
sellout crowds that were a staple during the 1990s, Layden became a
lightning rod for criticism. The anti-Layden feeling was so strong
in New York that when LeBron James was selected with the No. 1 pick
in the draft last June, commissioner David Stern's announcement of
the selection was drowned out by a loud chant of "Fire Layden."
Layden, a native New Yorker and the son of former Jazz coach
Frank Layden, spent 18 seasons with Utah before being brought to
New York by former Utah executive Dave Checketts.
At the behest of Checketts, Layden traded franchise stalwart
Patrick Ewing to Seattle in the summer of 2000, a move that
ultimately contributed to the club's current salary cap
The contracts of Allan Houston, Van Horn, Howard Eisley and
Shandon Anderson will take up almost all of the team's salary cap
space for the next three seasons, and the Knicks must decide after
this season whether to invest in McDyess, who will be a free agent
McDyess is one of six power forwards on the roster that Layden
assembled, and the team lacks depth at the shooting guard and small
forward positions. The Knicks have shown themselves to be
especially vulnerable against younger, quicker teams.
New York went 0-5 on a recent West Coast road trip, then
returned home and lost 104-86 loss to Golden State last Tuesday.
Several newspapers reported Saturday that Chaney was in danger
of being fired, and he could still be in jeopardy despite a victory
Saturday night against Atlanta.
Chaney's assistants include Brendan Malone, who served as
Thomas' assistant in Indiana the past. Malone also was Toronto's
first coach before getting fired by Thomas when he was running the
Raptors in 1996.
Chaney gave an impassioned defense of his work ethic and
preparation skills in a pre-game meeting with reporters Saturday,
making two somewhat disparaging references to the makeup of the
Layden, 44, built his reputation in Utah through his ability to
pluck obscure but productive players with low draft picks. But he
did not enjoy similar success drafting for the Knicks.
Layden's three picks from last June's draft -- Michael Sweetney,
Maciej Lampe and Slavko Vranes -- are all on the injured list. His
most promising pick from the 2002 draft, Serbian point guard Milos
Vujanic, elected to play in Europe after Layden failed to make him
a lucrative enough offer when he was unsigned two summers ago.
Scott Layden was fired Monday as president of the New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas was hired to replace him, a source told The Associated Press.