James Dolan sent Isiah Thomas to make the New York Knicks' last pitch to LeBron James
BY Frank Isola
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Originally Published:Thursday, July 8th 2010, 4:35 PM
Updated: Friday, July 9th 2010, 1:46 AM
Sladky/APThe Knicks outsource the job of selling LeBron James on New York to Isiah Thomas (a.), a former president who was fired two years ago following a sexual harassment trial. Take our PollLeBron's rotten apple
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Related NewsArticlesIsiah says he is not aiming for GM job with KnicksWalsh nearly resigned from Knicks upon learning of hiring of Isiah Isola: Time for Donnie to ditch Dolan, KnicksObama family reunion - Sasha and Michelle return from SpainWhen the Knicks knew they needed to make one final desperate plea to bring LeBron James to New York, James Dolan called upon his most trusted basketball executive to carry out the order.
In a bizarre twist to what has been a surreal eight days in the recruitment of James, the Knicks out-sourced the job of selling James on New York to a former president who was fired two years ago following a sexual harassment trial.
The News has learned that Dolan, the Chairman of Madison Square Garden, made the decision to send Thomas instead of head coach Mike D'Antoni. That move suggests that Dolan felt his team's initial presentation to James last Thursday fell flat. It also suggests that Thomas still has influence within the organization, and it raises questions about whether Dolan still has faith in team president Donnie Walsh and D'Antoni.
Walsh was responsible for clearing salary-cap space that gave the Knicks a chance to sign James. As for D'Antoni, his presence as Knicks coach was supposed to give the club an advantage in luring some of the top players to New York because of his involvement with Team USA.
Dolan, Walsh and D'Antoni were present when the Knicks sat face-to-face with James on July 1 in Cleveland. Two days later, the team sent Garden president Scott O'Neil and Vice President of Basketball Operations Glen Grunwald back to Ohio to meet with James' agent, Leon Rose.
But when the Knicks became aware that they trailed the Heat and Cavs to sign James, the organization brain-stormed and decided it needed to sit down with James' camp one final time. D'Antoni was the natural choice to fly to Ohio, but Dolan had other ideas. "He wanted Isiah," said a Knicks official. "That was Dolan's master plan. Mike was supposed to go to Ohio, but Jim wanted Isiah."
The Knicks would not comment on Thomas' trip to Akron, but a team source said that Thomas never spoke directly to the Cavs free agent but instead had a meeting with one of James' advisers. During Thursday's press conference to introduce Amar'e Stoudemire, Walsh stunned some in the audience when he thanked Thomas for helping the club. According to a source, it was Dolan who suggested to Walsh that he mention the man he replaced as team president.
Thomas is currently the head coach of Florida International University, a position he accepted after spending one year as an adviser to Walsh.
Had Thomas not joined the college ranks, Dolan was prepared to keep him employed by the club in a scouting role. But having Thomas involved in the chase for James sends mixed messages to the player as well as those in the organization who spent the last two years preparing for the 2010 free agent recruiting period.
"The guy doesn't even work for the team and he's the one talking to LeBron's people on behalf of the Knicks? That's incredible," said one opposing team executive. "Did they really think that would help them?"