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Thomas shows 'evident progress'; earns new deal

3/12/2007 - NBA New York Knicks

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Isiah Thomas got a multiyear contract
extension Monday, nine months after he was warned the Knicks needed
to show "evident progress" or he'd be out of a job.

With the Knicks in the hunt for a playoff spot, Madison Square
Garden chairman James Dolan went back on his vow to wait until
after the season to make his decision, saying that Thomas would
return as coach and team president.

Thomas added the coaching duties to his other role in June after
Dolan fired Larry Brown following one season. But along with the
job came the ultimatum, though Dolan never publicly said what the
Knicks needed to do this season to show that progress.

But with New York (29-34) already six wins better than last
season and currently eighth in the Eastern Conference, Dolan said
the improvement under Thomas "needs to be recognized now and not
wait."

"I believe we have clearly seen significant and evident
progress," Dolan said.

Dolan's announcement comes well ahead of schedule. When he met
with the team's beat writers in December, he stressed that he
wouldn't make a decision until after the season. However, the
Knicks were 8-15 at the time and coming off a dismal home loss to
Boston a night earlier in which they trailed by 30 points.

Chris Sheridan wonders why Knicks owner James Dolan chose to extend Isiah Thomas' contract so soon. StoryInsider • The Daily Dish

Things quickly got worse for Thomas, as the Knicks lost twice
more that week -- the second coming in the brawl with Denver that
embarrassed the organization -- to fall to a season-worst eight
games under .500.

Dolan has since been impressed by a turnaround that has the
Knicks on pace to make the playoffs after a two-year absence. They
entered Monday with a half-game lead over Orlando for the final
spot in the East.

More than the record, Dolan praised Thomas for getting the team
to play together and for the improvement in the Knicks' young
players. Second-year forward David Lee has become one of the NBA's
best sixth men, and Eddy Curry has turned into one of the top
centers in the East.

"I think every player has done well under Isiah," Dolan said.
"I think we have a great future."


Thomas said Dolan told him of his decision Sunday night. Neither
he nor Dolan would give any details of the deal, or when the old
one was set to run out. They did say Thomas would stay on in both
positions.

"I feel good that the uncertainty about my professional
situation is cleared up," Thomas said after practice. "But again
the most important thing is that we keep our team moving forward
and we stay focused and continue to try to get into the playoffs."

Dolan said there was a "crisis at the end of last season,"
referring to the poor relationship between Brown and many of the
players. That contributed to New York's 23-59 record, which tied
for the most losses in franchise history.

But the players have rallied behind Thomas, with Dolan pointing
to the last 10 days, when the Knicks have had to play through
injuries to Jamal Crawford and Lee, two of their top players.

"All the players kind of took it upon themselves, being that he
had a hand in bringing all of us here," Curry said. "We all felt
like it was our duty to go out here and play hard and try to
perform and give him some kind of security."