Observation Deck (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2007 12:52AM
Cablevision boss James Dolan is loathe to admit mistakes, so it isn't a surprise in the slightest to see him extend Isiah Thomas' contract despite a nearly $180 million dollar payroll (luxury tax included) all acquired by the Knicks' coach-president, who has New York on pace for 38 victories in the Atlantic Division.
Over and over, though, we get the feeling that, at his best, Thomas would be a tremendous scouting asset to a small-market team. He's not leaving New York anytime soon, but just imagine Isiah at the wheels of a team with an owner who would refuse to sign off on any transaction that would result in a significant payroll increase. Alongside an owner without stars in his eyes, an anti-Dolan, Isiah could really do some damage as a GM who would be allowed to build through the draft and little else -- assuming this hypothetical situation wouldn't even allow Zeke use of the mid-level exception, especially after those Jerome James and Jared Jeffries disasters.
Sunday's blowout victory against the Atlantic-leading Toronto Raptors was further proof of Thomas' touch with the amateur ranks. Knicks rookie Renaldo Balkman has proved all season that he was well worth the 20th pick in the 2006 draft, so his 15-point, 12-rebound, three-steal, two-block outburst against the Raptors isn't what we'd classify as a big surprise. But it showed, once again, that he is an NBA-level talent. Hardly a star, or even a starter, but he has a place, and that much wasn't apparent to anyone beyond Isiah last June.
Renaldo has taken his place alongside Isiah's batch of impressive draftees, including Tracy McGrady, Marcus Camby (a no-brainer, also a borderline All-Star a decade later), Damon Stoudamire (a Rookie of the Year, taken between Bryant Reeves and Shawn Respert), Trevor Ariza, David Lee, Channing Frye and Nate Robinson. And Mardy Collins is due to average 20 points in April, we're sure of it.
Bad attempts at dry humor aside, given an NBA expansion team (including the requisite limited payroll and lottery restrictions) and afforded the horrific choice between Isiah or Philadelphia's Billy King, Minnesota's Kevin McHale and Golden State's Chris Mullin to assemble personnel, Zeke would be the only sound choice.
Caron Butler's knee injury affects the Wizards at a pretty harrowing time -- they're just one game up on the charging Miami Heat with 18 to play. And yet, the team has won two in a row without Butler, due to a solid forward rotation and the emergence (finally) of free-agent signee Darius Songaila. He averaged 12 points and four rebounds in 17.5 minutes and went a combined 11-for-11 from the field in victories against Charlotte and Indiana.