Knicks give Thomas one year to turn team around

Updated: June 27, 2006, 1:21 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas has one year to turn around the New York Knicks -- something Larry Brown couldn't do. And if Thomas doesn't, he'll be gone, too.

"At this time next year, Isiah will be with us if we can all sit here and say that this team has made significant progress towards its goal of eventually becoming an NBA championship team. If we can't say that, then Isiah will not be here."
-- James Dolan, Madison Square Garden chairman

"I'm saying this right with Isiah here. This is his team," Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said Monday. "He made this bed. There's nobody better than him to make this thing go forward.

"But he has to do that and he has one year, one season to do that. At this time next year, Isiah will be with us if we can all sit here and say that this team has made significant progress towards its goal of eventually becoming an NBA championship team. If we can't say that, then Isiah will not be here."

The remarks by Dolan were his first since firing Brown as coach Thursday and replacing him with Thomas, the team president and general manager.

Dolan acknowledged that the team "made a mistake" hiring Brown.

Thomas assembled the roster that went 23-59, tying the franchise record for losses in a season. And though Dolan said the Knicks are still rebuilding, he wants to see results next season.

Dolan wouldn't say how many wins the Knicks would need, only that he wanted "evident progress, not just debatable progress."

And if he doesn't, he said Thomas would not only be replaced as coach, but he also would lose all his roles within the Cablevision-owned organization.

"It's his ship to steer," Dolan said, "his ship to make go fast, his ship to crash. His ship."

Thomas, who was seated to Dolan's right in a meeting with writers who cover the Knicks, said he was prepared to work under the deadline and would not sacrifice his plan to build with young players -- the Knicks have two first-round picks in Wednesday's draft.

"I've been in pressure situations before," Thomas said. "All my life has basically been about pressure and about having to get it done. Just because you say it publicly does not make me afraid of it or shy away from it. We've got a job to do, we'll get it done."

Dolan said his problems with Brown had less to do with wins and losses then with the Hall of Fame's coach refusal to go along with his bosses' wishes.

Reports surfaced in mid-May that Dolan planned to fire Brown. However, Dolan said that wasn't the case, and that he wanted to find a way to make things work going forward as long as Brown would accept certain conditions.

Instead, Dolan thinks sometime during that time that Brown -- who has a history of leaving jobs early -- decided he didn't want to return. Brown was fired with four years and $40 million left on his five-year contract.

"Larry never intended to coach this team beyond this season," Dolan said.

"I've been in pressure situations before. All my life has basically been about pressure and about having to get it done. Just because you say it publicly does not make me afraid of it or shy away from it. We've got a job to do, we'll get it done."
-- Isiah Thomas

Brown was frequently critical of the players in the media, and he also spoke to reporters without the presence of a public relations official. Dolan said both go against his preferences and policies.

A bigger problem, Dolan said, was that Brown overstepped his role as coach by trying to get involved in personnel matters. He said there were at least two instances when the Knicks proposed a trade, only to be told, "That's great, but I got a better offer from your coach."

"We couldn't get Larry to focus on his job," Dolan said. "He wanted to focus on Isiah's job."

Dolan said he was particularly upset when Brown said after the season that five or six players needed to be waived for the team to avoid another poor result next season.

Despite all that, Dolan said he hadn't made up his mind to fire Brown when they met Thursday at the team's training facility. But he said Brown wouldn't acknowledge that any of the issues Dolan brought up had even happened, so he had no choice but to make Thomas the Knicks' fifth coach in the last three years.

"I had 50 million reasons to stay with this," Dolan said. "If I thought there was any chance that next season we could have the Larry Brown that everybody thought we were going to get, I mean I'd jump through hoops for that. But I don't believe there was any opportunity to do that."

The matter of Brown's payment now goes to NBA commissioner David Stern. The Knicks are refusing to pay the remainder, and a clause in Brown's deal -- one Dolan said he has never given to another employee -- makes Stern the arbiter if there is any dispute.

Dolan said the Knicks will go along with whatever Stern rules. A message seeking comment was left with Brown's agent, Joe Glass.

Thomas coached the Indiana Pacers for three seasons through 2002-03, going 131-115 and leading them to the playoffs in each season. But he said he wasn't planning to return to coaching with the Knicks, claiming he was both heartbroken and mad that his longtime relationship with Brown had ended this way.

"I know from our standpoint, the Knicks' standpoint, we needed Larry Brown," Thomas said. "I wanted Larry to do a great job for us."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press