3:26 pm Sep. 10, 20121
If the New York Knicks could do one thing to antagonize their fan base more effectively than they did by letting Jeremy Lin go, it would to re-hire Isiah Thomas in an official capacity.
Sure enough, Knicks owner James Dolan met publicly with Thomas last week, just as M.S.G. president Scott O'Neil, an executive involved in both the business and basketball aspects of the Knicks, resigned.
The real problem for the Knicks, and for a fan base repulsed by Thomas' performance in his roles as team president and head coach, is that the job title appears to be just that, a title. Thomas has never really left Dolan's side and it has driven any number of people out of the organization, including Donnie Walsh.
Thomas was hired in December 2003 as team president; he managed to take a high-priced, underachieving roster and reduce the level of competitiveness while vastly increasing the pricetag, limiting the ability to make future moves in the process. He was also at the center of a sexual harassment lawsuit against M.S.G. that eventually cost the company $11.6 million.
No one seriously argues that Thomas' time in New York was anything less than a debacle, on and off the court. (An unrelated player named Isaiah Thomas was repeatedly booed at Madison Square Garden earlier this year.)
Even after the Knicks brought in Walsh in 2008 to clean up Thomas' mess, firing Thomas, his spectre has never been far from the Knicks. Walsh managed to undo Thomas' roster; it took two years. The resulting salary cap room allowed the Knicks to make a run at LeBron James, and eventually sign Amar'e Stoudemire. Dolan reportedly ordered Walsh, the man who made it possible, to thank Thomas, the man who had screwed things up, at Stoudemire's introductory press conference.
That same month, Dolan attempted to hire Thomas as a consultant, even though Thomas was the head coach at Florida International University. There aree N.B.A. rules against such things; the league turned Dolan down. But even as the Knicks desperately needed to move into a post-Isiah era, Dolan wanted Thomas back.
Thomas' role was increasingly obvious in the months that followed; Walsh finally left at the end of the 2010-11 seeason.
Now, with F.I.U. having fired Thomas after an awful tenure there as well, there's no rule stopping Dolan from hiring Thomas again. Interestingly, the person standing in the way of the reunion, according to Frank Isola, is Thomas, not Dolan. Thomas is worried about a media backlash, and apparently there's still some ill will from other M.S.G. executives because of the whole, you know, massive sexual harassment judgment and basketball incompetence.
If that's true, it would suggest, not for the first time, that Dolan is perversely at his happiest when his team's fans are beyond despair.