The Definition of Failure

Some of the greatest players in any sport are not always the best judges of talent or the best coaches for their respective sport.  Wayne Gretzky couldn’t get the Phoenix Coyotes to the playoffs in his four seasons as head coach.  They were a .500 team at best.  Michael Jordan failed as the President of Basketball Operations with the Washington Wizards.  Drafting Kwame Brown with the number one pick in 2001, when Pau Gasol was taken just two picks later, will be with MJ no matter where he goes.  He is now the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, but time will tell if he can redeem himself in the executive seat of the NBA.

Those are just two examples.  I give you one more.  Isiah Thomas was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time.  Without a doubt he is one of the best competitors the game has ever seen.  Is he the best talent evaluator?  Some would say yes.  Here are some of the players he has drafted as an executive with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks.

G Damon Stoudamire – Raptors 1995
C Marcus Camby – Raptors 1996
G Tracy McGrady – Raptors 1997
C David Lee – Knicks 2005
G Nate Robinson – Knicks 2005 acquired from Suns during Draft
C Channing Frye – Knicks 2005

Now that’s not terrible.  Stoudamire was a better player elsewhere, but he wasn’t terrible with the Raptors.  Camby did get to the NBA Finals when he was traded to the Knicks.  McGrady was a big part of the success the Raptors had going into the millennium before leaving as a free agent.  Lee is a double-double machine.  Robinson is a scoring threat when he steps on the court.  Frye is an above average shooter for a player his size.

Now Isiah was not around long enough to see his acquisitions succeed, but he does have an eye for talent.  That is why the Knicks, specifically owner James Dolan, offered Isiah Thomas a consultant position within the Knicks organization.  I will put forth the reasons why Isiah should not have been offered the consultant position with a team he helped run into the ground.

Isiah was the owner of the CBA (Continental Basketball Association) from 1998-2000.  Key word “was.”  When Isiah accepted the head coaching job from the Indiana Pacers in 2000, he put the CBA in a blind trust in which the league didn’t find a new owner to take over Isiah’s duties.  Plenty of blame goes around as to who helped ruin the CBA, but a good portion starts with Isiah who didn’t seem all that interested in the job.

Isiah accepted the head coaching job of the Indiana Pacers in the year 2000.  He would still be the coach until 2003.  The Pacers made it to the NBA Finals the year before Isiah was head coach.  The Pacers were in a transition from being a veteran team to bringing in younger talent to get back to the Finals.  Isiah made it to the playoffs every year he was coach, but was eliminated in the first round every time.  When Larry Bird returned as Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2003, Isiah was let go.

Isiah wasn’t unemployed for long as the New York Knicks hired him as Vice President of Basketball Operations in December 2003.  So began the unraveling of a once proud NBA franchise.  Here are some of Isiah’s worst moves as VP of Basketball Operations for the Knicks

Trading for Eddy Curry – cost multiple draft picks & money
Hiring Larry Brown as head coach – Larry wasn’t gonna help
Trading for Stephon Marbury – “Starbury” only helps “Starbury”
Trading for Zach Randolph – he has talent, but his head isn’t in it
Signing Jerome James & Jared Jeffries to max contracts – enough said

Isiah after all this, hired himself as head coach in 2006 after the Larry Brown experiment failed.  The Knicks were on track to make the playoffs by the All-Star break when Knicks owner, James Dolan, rewarded Isiah with a multi-year extension.  Soon after that the Knicks fell off and out of playoff contention.  The following year the Knicks finished with a 23-59 record.  10 games worse than the year before under Isiah the coach.

To top it all off, Isiah and Madison Square Garden were sued by a former employee for sexual harassment.  A grand jury found them both guilty and had to pay $11.6 million to the victim.  If you cost your boss $11.6 million, why would that boss hire you back?

James Dolan is not your typical owner though.  He offers Isiah Thomas a consultant position with the Knicks while he is the head coach of Florida International, a NCAA Division 1 school.  Besides the conflict of interest here, isn’t this a slap in the face to your current VP of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh?  Donnie fired Isiah and now he has to know that Isiah is in a management role in New York while he’s still there.

I know, it’s just a consultant.  What kind of power does a consultant have.  Especially when he’s coaching Florida International.  Well, if the NBA and NCAA were a little more concerned about this, they would realize that this opens up Pandora’s box.  What’s to stop San Antonio, Dallas and Houston from asking Texas coach Rick Barnes to be a “consultant.”  Or for the Lakers to hire Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as a “consultant.”

Thankfully NBA commissioner David Stern told Isiah Thomas that this would not work because it would violate NBA bylaws of a current college coach working with an NBA team.  However, a story in the New York Post reported that Knicks owner James Dolan had told the commissioner’s office of the planned hire of Isiah Thomas before it was announced.  Why wasn’t it stopped then?  The NCAA would rather focus on bigger schools and athletic departments, but sees no problem with this scenario.

Look no further than to James Dolan when he released this statement after Isiah turned down the Knicks offer.

“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,” MSG chairman Dolan said.  “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.  We wish him continued success at FIU.”

“He will always have strong ties to me and the team.”  “I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent.”  That says to me that either James Dolan is smoking some serious stuff or Isiah Thomas has something on Dolan that he doesn’t want to come out.

The NBA and NCAA let this linger for too long and it should have been shot down as soon as they caught wind of it.  What’s to stop Isiah from talking to James Dolan about basketball matters in the future?  The answer: nothing.

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