Commentary

Dolan is one constant in Knicks' failure

Team using Isiah Thomas to recruit free agents has Dolan's handprints all over it

Updated: July 12, 2010, 4:30 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

You should see the view up here from Idiot Hill. How did I get here? Another shocker from New York Knicks owner James Dolan, that's how. Just Thursday, I was the genius who wrote that the Knicks franchise was better off for its failed chase of LeBron James because now, at least, the Knicks had Amare Stoudemire and salary-cap room and a plan. It was meant as a compliment.

What was I thinking?

I've had cut flowers that stayed good longer than that lousy column. Within 24 hours, Dolan looked like he was casting himself and Isiah Thomas in a spinoff of the George Steinbrenner-Billy Martin saga. Hired. Fired. No, hired again.

And to think I attended the press conference the Knicks held Thursday to officially introduce Stoudemire, clearly heard Knicks president Donnie Walsh publicly thank Isiah Thomas for helping to recruit Stoudemire to the Knicks, then repeated "Isiah Thomas?" -- the deposed Knicks president and coach who has been the head coach at Florida International University just 15 months? The same man who drove the Knicks franchise into the side of a mountain before Walsh replaced him?

Why him?

Part of my brain -- I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure it was the logical part -- figured that even Dolan wouldn't possibly think of bringing Thomas back.

Yet reports surfaced within a day that the Knicks would indeed consider restoring Thomas to some role like general manager, the same job he was a colossal failure at here before. We also learned that Thomas was dispatched by Dolan to help with the Knicks' failed attempts to romance LeBron and overpay Atlanta's Joe Johnson, a worrisome flashback to the Knicks' old habits.

The Knicks' belief that signing Johnson would help bring James was wrong, too.

There's a lesson in all this. Never forget that Dolan is nothing if not an incorrigible contrarian, and a recidivist knucklehead to boot.

He has a well-established pattern of sticking with underperformers beyond all reason. When everyone else says yes, Dolan says no. If critics say "Fire someone," he'll dig in and keep them till they earn a gold watch. Dolan also thinks he and Thomas are unfairly persecuted.

Still, it's hard to fathom the curiousness of it all. Bringing in Thomas wasn't exactly a vote of confidence for the executives Dolan has, was it? And how do you think Thomas' college bosses felt reading published reports that Thomas is running free-agent recruiting errands for the Knicks and "dying" to get back into the NBA, though he already has a day job with an FIU team that was 7-25 a year ago and averaged only 1,142 fans a game?

All this has less to do with Thomas and nearly everything to do with Dolan.

Thomas doesn't climb back from the grave and get a foothold with the Knicks if Dolan doesn't let him.

The fact that Dolan is even considering rehiring Thomas leaves Dolan all alone as the leading reason the Knicks may never right themselves during his ownership tenure, unless it's by some colossal stroke of luck.

There's no need to diffuse the blame for the Knicks' 10-year slump among Dolan and Scott Layden and Thomas.

Dolan is the constant. Dolan will always be a problem.

And the shame of it is, under Walsh, the Knicks finally seem poised for a turnaround, perhaps even to squeak into the playoffs. It took blowing up the roster and two seasons of losing to rebuild the right way. But the Knicks finally seemed to be escaping the tar pit they were in. Stoudemire is the Knicks' best player since Patrick Ewing, and they still have money left to spend on Carmelo Anthony or another star for the first time this millennium.

Most owners wouldn't tamper with all that.

But logic doesn't apply to Dolan.

Knowing how byzantine, irrational and frequently nasty the politics are at Dolan's Garden, part of me -- the logical part, again -- actually wondered if Walsh thanked Thomas so publicly and out of the blue at Stoudemire's press conference because Walsh knew the reaction to Thomas' possible return would be exactly what the Daily News' back-page headline screamed on Saturday: NOOO!

On Friday, Walsh, who is nearing 70, added that Thomas would indeed be on the Knicks' short list of GM candidates but -- ahem -- Walsh isn't planning on retiring anytime soon, thank you, and he "isn't hiring right now," either.

Walsh, who once hired Thomas as his head coach in Indiana, has always said Thomas has some good traits.

Fine.

But the oft-cited justifications for bringing Thomas back into team operations -- he's the talent evaluator who drafted Trevor Ariza and others -- is revisionist. It totally ignores that Thomas also brought everyone from Stephon Marbury to Eddy Curry, and more contract buyouts and busts than anyone cares to remember. Larry Brown's hiring looked like a coup and quickly became a nightmare. The court testimony at the tawdry sexual harassment suit that Thomas and Dolan and the Garden lost to Anucha Browne Sanders was a repellent look at what goes on backstage at the World's Most Famous Arena.

That's not gratuitous piling on. That's just the facts.

The idea that Dolan would ignore all that is startling. But he is who he is.

Anyone, even an idiot, should be able to see that.

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

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