Isiah Thomas seems hell bent on single-handedly destroying the New York Knicks. After watching the team he put together fumbled their way to 23 wins, second fewest in the league, he fired his latest enemy, Larry Brown.
That's 23 wins on a team with a combined payroll of $126 million. For those of you out there who are not math majors, that comes out to about $5.5 million per win. We would have to check the history books and consult with Allen Greenspan, but those numbers add up to equate to the 2005 New York Knicks being the biggest failure in professional sports history. At least the hapless 2006 Kansas City Royals have a minor-league budget.
After firing head coach Brown a week ago, Knicks' owner Charles Dolan publicly put Thomas on notice, informing his new coach, and the world, that the hall-of-fame point guard had one season to turn things around in Gotham or the Knickerbockers would fire up the search engine for a new coach.
With the words, "and with the 20th pick…the New York Knicks…(the air being sucked out of Madison Square Garden)…select…Renaldo Balkman from the University of South Carolina."
The commish then added, "Renaldo is not here," to which ESPN's Dan Patrick dryly responded, "And it's probably a good thing."
From Astoria to SoHo, you could almost hear the collective question, "Who?"
After a minute of befuddlement, the boos, almost confused groans of agony, began to rain down from the public in attendance at the Garden. Even Knick Superfan #1, Spike Lee, could only laugh and shake his head. In the greatest arena in America, Isiah Thomas turned his traveling roadshow of tragedy into theater of the absurd.
The ESPN analysts seemed beyond perplexed, even the always-boisterous motor mouth and New York native, Stephen A. Smith, seemed nonplussed to the point of being speechless. Now, that's a feat.
The pick even left generally-diplomatic Jay Bilas confused, bordering on angry.
"This to me is a stunner, I'm stunned. This is a second-round player. Nobody else would have taken him in the first round," he said.
Apparently Thomas does not work under the guidelines of conventional wisdom. He insisted before the draft that he saw Balkman as a mix between Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest. One can only assume that he meant the long-haired kid from South Carolina who averaged less than 10pts. a game last year was a scrappy defender and a menace on the boards and not a player who might charge into the stands after a fan or appear in a wedding dress on the cover of a national magazine.
Thomas, with one year to turn the moribund Knicks around, does not obviously feel the pressure management intended to apply with its public declaration. He took a risk on a guy nobody had on their board. He made a move that looked toward the future. But when your future has already been given a shelf-life pending results, you need to make your team better immediately.
And he had the opportunity. When David Stern came to the podium to announce the latest Knicks' debacle, stand-out point guard Marcus Williams of Connecticut was still on the board, as was Rajon Rondo, P.J. Tucker, David Noel…you get the picture.
Maybe Thomas did not appreciate the pressure that came from upstairs. Maybe he decided to stare boldly into the face of reason and blink. Hard. Or maybe he is just not a good general manager. After destroying the Toronto Raptors, ruining the CBA, getting run from Indiana by Larry Legend, insulting and sucking the life from one of the game's best coaches, maybe Isiah just does not know what he is doing.
For years, although people have doubted his ability to run a team or make even one salary cap decisions, but he has been credited for having had an eye for talent. He drafted Damon Stoudamire in 1995 and Tracy McGrady in 97. So, maybe Thomas really has found a diamond in the rough. He better hope so; if not, he better hope the Mets or Yankees win the World Series to distract the city from what threatens to be a very bleak winter, and probably Thomas' last, in New York City.