Knicks need to change philosophy to change fortunes
Posted: Thursday February 16, 2006 11:16PM; Updated: Friday February 17, 2006 5:32PM
Don't blame Isiah Thomas for the Knicks' payroll issues. That all falls on owner James Dolan.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Good Lord, it can't be true that Knicks owner James L. Dolan is trying to acquire Steve Francis.
Doesn't Dolan realize that adding to the Knicks' payroll is the problem, not the answer? The Knicks' reconstruction has to begin sometime, and adding someone like Francis isn't a step in that direction.
You know what would be terrific? If all of the daily rumors and innuendo of blockbuster trades threatening to deliver Francis or Kenyon Martin or another high-salary, high-maintenance savior to New York turned out to be a deception, a ruse behind which the Knicks have been camouflaging their true intentions. Then, before next Thursday's trade deadline, the team would reveal that it's exchanging Jamal Crawford or Malik Rose (or both, or any other veteran on the roster) for younger players, shorter contracts or future draft picks.
But that hasn't been the Knicks' way. Dolan has responded to every calamity by acquiring more expensive players. He has hiked the Knicks' payroll to an NBA-record $126 million based on a hysterically flawed theory that fans in New York will not accept a losing team trying to rebuild. Now he's given them something far worse: a loser that will need years to deconstruct before it can be rebuilt.
People blame team president Isiah Thomas for the Knicks' payroll, but he's simply following orders. (Or do you think he racks up a $60 million luxury-tax bill all on his own?) It's clear that Dolan's heart is in the right place, because he has proved in the most expensive way imaginable that he wants to win. He probably imagined that money could buy him love, that, at the very least, fans would appreciate his gross generosity.
But the smartest fans despise Dolan for his ignorance. The worst irony of the Knicks' dilemma is that they would be in far better shape today with a skinflint owner, because a low-payroll team can be rebuilt far more quickly than this garish mess. The cheap, young Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks are far more promising than the bloated Knicks.
If Dolan suddenly changed course, would the Knicks be worse? They couldn't be. Would he have to change his administration? No, because Thomas is one of the league's best draft evaluators (see Tracy McGrady and Channing Frye), and coach Larry Brown loves to teach. Will the fans be angry? Not if they see young players attacking at both ends and showing improvement -- the opposite of what they're seeing now.
The more Dolan spends, the less he is respected. Remember how Cleveland's notorious owner Ted Stepien ruined the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1980s by trading away their future draft picks? Dolan is the Stepien of this generation: the patsy who mortgaged the Knicks' future by spending incoherently.
Imagine if next Thursday he embarked on a two-year plan to make the Knicks younger, sleeker and promising? If he talked about looking in the mirror and recognizing his own mistakes?
Now imagine the opposite. Another big trade, more overpaid players. The same hopeless results.
There is no leadership on New York's roster, and it's the one commodity the Knicks can't buy. Even if they were able to acquire a veteran leader like Eric Snow or Shane Battier, the impact would be negligible. The players currently in the Knicks' locker room work for an owner who overpays them without demanding performance in return. It's a culture of entitlement that isn't going to change unless it's changed by the owner.
Someday Dolan is either going to have to change his ways or sell the team to somebody who can. He should change today.