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Thursday, August 12, 2010
Fans deserve better than James Dolan

By Ian O'Connor
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Up front, on the subject of Isiah Thomas, allow me to declare my articles of faith.

Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas is going back to coaching at Florida International, but Knicks fans aren't totally rid of him.

I believe Thomas is the best little man ever to play a big man's game.

I believe Thomas belonged on the original Dream Team ahead of John Stockton.

I believe Thomas was no more overmatched by the job of running a franchise in the world's loudest market than the terrified Scott Layden.

So no, I don't count myself among the card-carrying Zeke haters. In fact, I wouldn't say Isiah never, ever, ever deserves another shot in the front office of an NBA team.

But I would say he never, ever, ever deserves another shot in the front office of the New York Knicks.

Millions of right-minded Knicks fans agree, a truth that brings us to the statement released Wednesday by James Dolan, chairman of Madison Square Garden, lord of Atlantic Division darkness. After Thomas jumped before he was pushed, quit before David Stern could squash his Knicks consulting job with the league's rulebook, Dolan said the following:

"Although I'm disappointed that Isiah will not be working with the Knicks as a consultant, I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent. He's a good friend of mine and of the organization and I will continue to solicit his views. He will always have strong ties to me and the team."

This was Dolan's way of telling Knicks fans, his customers, that he's going to get the last laugh on them, that he's not about to let something as frivolous as a set of league bylaws stop his love affair with Thomas from raging on without explanation.

Thomas will still shape and define how the Knicks acquire talent -- it's right there in Dolan's words. During free agency and the failed pursuit of LeBron James, the Garden chairman solicited Thomas' counsel as much as he solicited current team president Donnie Walsh's. That's not going to change. Nor is the fact Thomas remains in line to return as general manager and/or president of the Knicks sooner rather than later.

James Dolan
James Dolan insists he'll continue to solicit Isiah's opinions, even though he's not officially a team employee.

Once again, with feeling, Dolan is more interested in defying fans and media members than he is in building a credible team. His customers have made it clear they don't want Thomas on his board of trustees. The people credentialed to deliver fact and opinion to those customers have made it clear Thomas isn't qualified for a second term in office.

So Dolan goes ahead and tries to resurrect Isiah, anyway, even tries to pull a fast one on a man widely considered the best sports commissioner of his time. Stern made it clear in his own statement he was ready to take "formal action" on this Dolan-Thomas reunion, action that wasn't required after Thomas, coach at Florida International, surrendered his latest full Garden ride.

"However," Stern said, "we have reminded the Knicks of NBA rules that prohibit team personnel, including consultants, from having contact with players not eligible for the draft."

What an embarrassment, the commissioner announcing he had to remind one of his teams about the rules. This was Stern publicly slapping a dunce cap on Dolan's head and telling him to sit in the corner.

Here's the difference between Stern and Dolan: Stern had a lot of smart people advising him to kill the Isiah deal right from the start. Those people understood that NBA teams couldn't get caught up in bidding wars for top college coaches, which would have polluted the pre-draft process to BP levels.

Dolan? He had a lot of smart people directly advising him to kill the Isiah deal right from the start, too. But why listen to those people when you can do something a lot more fun like ignore their opinions, complete the transaction and emerge as the league laughingstock for the sake of old times?

In the end, nobody could figure out what was more embarrassing -- rehiring Isiah, or violating NBA rules in the process and watching the arrangement go poof in the night.

Dolan forever leads the league in making bad situations worse, as in a lot. He could've settled the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment case for a fraction of the $11.6 million he was forced to pay, but chose instead to go to trial and cause irreparable harm to himself, to Thomas, and to the company brand.

Now Dolan is battering his fan base, the one that chanted for Isiah's demise. He released an arrogant, in-your-face statement that further demoralized those fans -- men and women who don't even remember what the inside of a playoff game looks like.

And what of Dolan's kind words for Walsh, who didn't deserve to get hit with this blind pick? The owner's actions say plenty more. The emasculated Walsh should resign and go work for someone else.

Oh, and one other thing: Dolan's statement said he wishes Thomas "continued success at FIU." The Garden chairman should've edited "continued" from the script.

Thomas was 7-25 in his first season at FIU.

But then again, in Dolan's world, 7-25 represents evident progress. So bank on Isiah Thomas returning to run the Knicks, if only because Dolan would enjoy another last laugh on the fans.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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