- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Thomas told ESPN.com Friday that he accepted a more formal and unique consulting position with his former employer, where he will help Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh make decisions on draft picks, trades and personnel.
"I'll be available to him for that," Thomas said by phone from South Florida. "I've always said that if there's a GM position that should ever open that I would be interested in going back to the NBA as a GM for the right spot and the right opportunity. In terms of going back as a coach, I don't see myself doing that."
Thomas, who coached FIU to a 7-25 record (4-14 in the Sun Belt) last year in his first season on the job, said he first checked with the NCAA to see if he could be a paid consultant with an NBA team and simultaneously coach a Division I school. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia was unavailable for comment early Friday.
"I couldn't be the GM,'' said Thomas of maintaining two jobs. "But we checked with the NCAA and you can do it. I'm excited about what we're building here at FIU and that will continue to be my main focus. In my spare time, when I do have time, just like I've always done, I'll consult and advise the Knicks whenever they ask for my help."
Though the NCAA may have given the OK for Thomas to work as a consultant for the Knicks while still serving as the men's basketball coach, the NBA hasn't cleared it.
Thomas would have to violate several league rules to serve in both capacities. The NBA does not allow team personnel to scout high school players, which Thomas presumably would have to do to recruit players, nor does it allow contact with draft-eligible collegiate players, which Thomas would have coaching his own team.
"We are reviewing the agreement, in consultation with the Knicks, for compliance with league rules," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.
In a statement released by the team Friday, the Knicks announced that Thomas' role would be to "assist the team's senior management in various capacities, including player recruitment."
Thomas, a Hall of Famer with the Detroit Pistons, had a dismal run as team president from December 2003 to April 2008 with the Knicks and made just one playoff appearance despite often having the league's highest payroll.
He also was the coach the final two seasons, getting dismissed after the Knicks went 23-59 in the 2007-08 season.
Despite losing hundreds of games and being the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former team employee that cost the organization $11.6 million, Thomas has remained close to Walsh and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan.
Thomas said he has been under contract with the Knicks since he was fired, including when Dolan sent him to Cleveland to meet with LeBron James' representatives in a last-ditch effort to get James to sign with the Knicks.
Thomas said that the meetings in Cleveland were personal and private and "it wouldn't be in anybody's best interest for me to divulge who I met with and what I discussed."
Thomas said he will focus on recruiting for FIU and coaching the Panthers. But getting an official title back with the Knicks has a special meaning, especially after his mother, Mary, passed away in January.
"I'm excited to work with the Knicks again," Thomas said. "I wish my mom was still alive to see this."
Andy Katz is a senior writer who covers college basketball for ESPN.com. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
39mMatt Walks, ESPN.com