SEE THE 9TH PARAGRAPH DOWN.
Isiah isn't fixing
any Knick holes
There's no way around it. There's no way to sugarcoat it. Isiah Thomas had himself a miserable offseason.
OK, so it wasn't as bad as Bruce Ratner's. But whose was? But after promising bold, creative moves to get the Knicks back to contender status, the team's president didn't exactly get Lenny Wilkens what he desperately needs to get this team back to winning big at the Garden.
Five months ago, Kenyon Martin destroyed the Knicks in Game4, putting the final touches on one of the franchise's most embarrassing playoff appearances ever. But instead of finding his own big man who can dominate a game in the spring, Thomas went out and got himself an undisciplined, immature shooting guard who still has to prove that he knows a good shot from a bad one.
"Now," announced Jamal Crawford, Thomas' lone major offseason addition, "I'm on a winning team."
Crawford made that statement twice in a 30-second span at media day yesterday, so it's obvious that he missed the news that the Knicks won only 39 times last season, finishing four games under .500. But when you come from Chicago and win only 23 games, as he did last season, and Isiah Thomas is waving $55 million under your nose, you don't sweat the details.
For $102.44 million, you'd think that the Knicks would have a big man who can draw double-teams in the post. But as they top the $100 million mark in payroll for the first time in their history, it is interesting to note that they still haven't replaced Patrick Ewing.
Thomas has been on board less than 10 months, but the payroll is now more than Scott Layden's. Eight of the Knicks' top 12 players are Thomas imports, with more on the way if he can rid the roster of Kurt Thomas and Shandon Anderson, who are proving to be more of a pain for the team's No.1 basketball executive than they've ever been to opponents.
While $102.44 million is an obscene total for a team that still lacks a franchise talent and is no lock to win a terribly diluted Atlantic Division, it's not drawing the ire of Garden CEO Jim Dolan. During an offseason meeting with his basketball brain trust, Dolan joked that he'd rather have Isiah Thomas spend his money than have to give it to his ex-wife.
Dolan may be happy with the results, but it's just more fiscal insanity, especially when the front line is still inhabited by the likes of backups and retreads miscast as starters. Thomas' one play for a front-court player wasn't even that creative or good. Knicks fans will be eternally grateful that Chris Mullin didn't cave in to Thomas' strong-arm tactics and send them Erick Dampier, a classic underachiever who would have heard boos in the Garden by Christmas.
The rough treatment still could come this winter for the Knicks. During their recent internal meetings, Thomas and his aides came to what can only be regarded as a startling conclusion. They think that only Detroit will be better in the East, a prediction that flies in the face of Shaquille O'Neal's arrival in Miami and what should be another strong team for Larry Bird in Indiana.
"We ain't played one game yet," Stephon Marbury said yesterday. "It's all speculation."
It's silly to say the Knicks are going to be appreciably better, just as it is for Thomas to say that his team draws inspiration from the Yankees. In fact, there's a better local baseball analogy. Think of the team with similar colors and an equally clueless owner.
Right, the Mets.
Besides the obvious problems up front, who's to say that Allan Houston returns to form off his knee troubles? Who's to say that Crawford can accept coming off the bench? Who's to say that Marbury passes the ball to Crawford, or that Crawford deigns to find Marbury? The three backcourt players all need the ball to do what they do best, and there's only one ball to go around.
But the three-guard rotation doesn't even begin to address the Knicks' biggest problem. Think back to their lightning-quick playoff exit and remember the token defense they employed. Going from Wilkens' collection of matadors to Detroit's championship-level "D" in the next round had to be a monumental shock to the Nets' system. Now Wilkens has no excuses, getting his first training camp here.
"Our challenge is to start off with the right defensive mind-set," Houston said. "We have to get our defensive identity early. That bonds you as a unit."
If the Knicks can ever do that, who knows? Maybe they'll actually see .500.
Thomas was a great player, but his ego is to big for the business world.