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BAND AIDE: Assistant coach Brendan Suhr confers with Lenny Wilkens during Knicks' win Friday night. N.Y. Post: Charles
November 14, 2004 -- I know how fussy my custom ers are. I know they want their irony folded and unwrinkled, and I aim to please.
Before signing a four-year coaching contract with the Pacers, Isiah Thomas was deeply entangled in negotiations with the Hawks. So serious, his appointment was within days (hours?) of being announced. So serious, his wife had designed a sumptuous home in Atlanta, whose virginity had greatly appreciated when sold a year later.
In any event, the biggest impediment leading to the termination of talks was Thomas' insistence to employ Brendan Suhr as his first lieutenant and management's downright disapproval. On second thought, his CBA ownership might've been the deciding negative factor.
Regardless, Suhr had long since out-Barnumed his Bailey within the Hawks' organization under Hubie Brown and Mike Fratello. Management simply wasn't going to allow his notorious whispering campaigns to pollute the premises again.
Here's the quirkiest twist of fate: Had Thomas been hired, you know, of course, whom he would've replaced? That's right, Lenny Wilkens.
The same guy Thomas impetuously hired a half-season ago for obscene ($5.75M million per year for four) money. As if Wilkens wouldn't have rolled over and performed stupid human tricks for one-third that package; at the time Lenny was agreeable to do anything NBA related-TV, radio, specimen collector - to get him out of the house.
The same guy that . . . after 96 minutes this season, Thomas felt needed more help than the four assistants worth or assistance he'd already provided. Suhr's puffy presence in team huddles (after being beached, er, benched since '99) is as much of a putdown of Mark Aguirre, Herb Williams, Michael Malone and George Glymph as it is of Wilkens. Obviously, he's saying they need help, too.
At the same time, Suhr's abrupt arrival doesn't exactly say much for Thomas' selection process. In the Army, they call it the Four P's - p . . . poor prior planning.
Shame on Thomas for not knowing Wilkens needed experienced NBA coaching help when he hired him. And shame, shame on Thomas for not discovering it sooner and not doing something about it long before last week.
And, by doing something about it, I don't mean replacing the conspicuously innocuous Dick Helm. Shame, shame, shame on Thomas if the coming, staying and going of the 71-year-old long-time Lenny loyalist ever entered into the equation of winning and losing.
Believe me, it didn't. Nobody, not even Thomas, ever expected Helm to bring anything to the Knicks' table, much less contribute something of consequence.
A desultory attempt was made to talk Wilkens out of bringing Helm with him to New York. But Lenny wanted his guy, and Thomas understood it wasn't remotely worth fighting about.
(FYI: As the Pacers' rookie head coach, Thomas was given the respect and responsibility by Donnie Walsh to hire all but one, Vern Fleming, of his assistants. Yet Wilkens, one of three to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, is prohibited from staffing his understudies. How long before such flagrant disrespect seeps down to the players and into their games? Who does Thomas think he is, Jerry Krause?). Therefore, Helm's unceremonious subtraction after the Celtics wasted the Knicks at home amounted to a cerebral zero net loss. The addition of Suhr, on the other hand, is definitely an upgrade in that area.
Then again (reflect on the Four P's) had Thomas retained Brendan Malone instead of watching security walk him out of Madison Square Garden alongside Don Chaney and a couple others from his fallen faction, he would've already had a former Bad Boys assistant sitting alongside Wilkens.
I find it positively satirical that Brendan Malone, Thomas' first assistant in Indiana and head-coach choice in Toronto, was smart enough to break him in, but not smart enough to keep around to work with Wilkens.
That'll teach Brendan to return to New York several months before Isiah.