Commentary

James Dolan needs to end his silence

The owner can't stand idly by as Thomas undermines the Knicks' progress. Can he?

Updated: November 9, 2010, 9:42 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- After three days of letting his top New York Knicks executive twist in the wind like a piñata, it would be instructive to hear owner James Dolan's thoughts about how his professed good pal, ex-Knicks executive Isiah Thomas, took aim at Dolan's sitting team president, Donnie Walsh, late last week. In an interview with ESPNNewYork.com, Thomas openly coveted Walsh's job, dragging the Knicks franchise backward just as the overhauled team was off to a nice little start in the brand-new season.

Say something already, Dolan.

Anything at all.

Dolan was back in his courtside seat at Madison Square Garden on Sunday when the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Knicks in a matinee. But Dolan, as usual, declined an interview request that was placed through a team public relations official. Neither Thomas' latest stab at sabotage nor the rising rates that Dolan's Cablevision outfit just announced after its skirmish with the Fox channels can flush Dolan out of the foxhole he always prefers to stay in. It doesn't seem to matter how unpopular such choices make him.

[+] EnlargeJames Dolan
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe owner declines to comment on Thomas' talk. Does that mean an Isiah restoration is a real possibility?

But Dolan should at least have the guts to let everyone know that he's fine with Thomas surfacing like this every now and then to undermine Walsh's authority and job security. Because that's the net effect of what Thomas is doing every time he opens his mouth. Even someone as nakedly ambitious as Thomas doesn't offer himself up in the first week of the new NBA season, spinning bald-faced lies and revisionist tales about his Knicks stay, if there's any danger that Dolan, his best meal ticket back into the NBA, will step on him and say, "Enough." Or even just, "Not now, pal."

Walsh is the best executive Dolan and the Knicks have had since Dave Checketts.

Walsh deserves better from Dolan for the job he's done.

And Dolan should say so before Thomas' endless hovering turns this season into a circus, too.

Although it didn't always show in the second half of the Knicks' 106-96 loss on Sunday, the 3-3 Knicks are athletic and promising and actually interesting to watch again. The roster is no longer weighed down by the overpaid stiffs or ill-advised combinations Thomas used to put together. Remember when he had six small forwards on the roster at the same time?

Thomas had the Knicks so locked down in salary-cap hell, Walsh's decision to blow up the roster and endure a few years of losing was the franchise's only option whether free-agent talent like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had been available in the offseason or not.

The Knicks got Amare Stoudemire instead of James, of course.

But now, thanks to Thomas, have they experienced the true fresh start that Walsh and Mike D'Antoni and the new players deserve? Nope.

Dolan should say something instead of letting Thomas sit there in Miami in his perch as a college coach, babbling nonsense about delivering James to the Knicks (when James' just-signed Miami contract doesn't expire until 2014) and someday riding down the Canyon of Heroes on a parade float after the Knicks win a championship.

Whatever.

Had Dolan happened to walk down the Garden corridor just outside the Sixers' dressing room before Sunday's game, he would've overheard Sixers coach Doug Collins -- a man who coached Michael Jordan and won a ring as a player with Julius Erving, remember -- raving about the changes Walsh has made and how, under Walsh, the Knicks franchise finally seems to have a coherent plan.

"I'm a big Donnie Walsh fan, and I'm very impressed with the job they're doing," Collins said, mentioning how the team the Knicks put on the floor now has more balance, more athleticism, more shot-blocking -- in short, more promise, period.

"They're harder to play now," Collins continued. "Shoot, they've got Amare Stoudemire to give them 25 to 30 points on any night. He's getting to the free throw line 11 times a game so far, so you're probably going to be in the penalty, too. If they're making 3-pointers like they were the other night against Chicago, you almost can't guard them because Amare will just roll right through inside. Then you've Ronny Turiaf coming off their bench with great energy and toughness. They have two good point guards in Felton and Toney Douglas. On tape they just look better all over the court."

No one is calling the Knicks world-beaters yet. You still wish Walsh had been as good with the No. 10 overall draft pick that he used to take Jordan Hill (now gone) as he's been at turning up talented later picks like Douglas or Landry Fields, who both played significant minutes for the Knicks on Sunday.

But Walsh is still light-years better than Thomas or Scott Layden, another failed exec whom Dolan propped up for years. For the first time in six or seven seasons, the Knicks are actually fun to watch, even though they're a work in progress. Stoudemire is trying hard to be a leader, not just a stat-monger, on this young team. On Sunday he was a willing passer and hit the boards. D'Antoni, who's always been known as an offensive coach, even has the Knicks playing some defense.

And even though the Knicks didn't win Sunday, it was good to see a few of them beating themselves up after losing to a 2-6 Sixers team that was playing without Andre Iguodala.

"We have to win games like this if we want to be a playoff team," Wilson Chandler said.

"I feel like today we gave one away," Douglas muttered.

"It's been a hole here for a few years, and we don't have that swagger," D'Antoni added.

Dolan could give them some added stability by backing Walsh and the path they're all on together.

Instead, Dolan sits there, saying nothing, sticking to his misplaced loyalty to Thomas, while Thomas makes him look like a fool yet again.

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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