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Shaun Powell

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Despite the NBA ruling, Knicks owner James Dolan stated he would continue to solicit Isiah Thomas' views.
Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images

Knicks were bailed out, but Isiah remains in background


Posted Aug 12 2010 6:42AM

The Knicks were just spared any further public grief when someone at the league office flipped through a dusty NBA rulebook and found a way to save the club from itself.

Yes, if not for this late discovery of a bylaw that rarely, if ever, needed to be enforced, Isiah Thomas would be back on the club payroll right now. Unfathomable, you say? No, factual. It's hard to imagine anything this summer topping "The Decision" for outlandishness. But the Knicks did just that when they reached out to Thomas, the symbol of their checkered recent past, to play an instrumental role as a consultant.

What could compare? Tony Hayward being re-hired by BP to provide clean-up tips?

The league axed the idea, anyway, by explaining that team personnel can't have intimate connections to the college level; Thomas is the coach of Florida International. Wisely, Thomas backed away from his commitment, and at that very moment, basketball fans in New York exhaled. The idea of bringing back Thomas seemed a stretch, anyway. And if nothing else, it caused major public-relations headaches for a franchise that just began digging out of a hole caused partly by Thomas' tumultuous reign as team president and general manager.

Suddenly, the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire and the trade that reeled in promising young talent Anthony Randolph seemed lost on folks who instead saw the shadow of Thomas lurking in the background, unearthing old and painful memories. More interesting is Thomas' relationship with owner James Dolan, which remains close despite the sexual harassment case brought upon Thomas that cost the Knicks dearly. Put yourself in the shoes of Donnie Walsh. How secure would you feel as the GM if someone else also had the ear of the owner?

Somewhat defiantly, after the NBA ruling, Dolan made a point to confirm his relationship with Thomas, saying in a team-issued press release: "He's a good friend of mine ... and I will continue to solicit his views ... I continue to believe in his basketball knowledge, including his ability to judge talent. He will always have strong ties to me and the team."

It was Dolan's way of ignoring, if not outright dismissing, the sentiment of those fans who strongly feel otherwise.

In a sense, it's not surprising to see why Dolan and Thomas have forged a bond. Both are cut from the same cloth, in terms of being strong-willed and doing things their way, even if it does ruffle the establishment. And yet, the Knicks were in ruins when Thomas vacated his position and replaced by Walsh. Their payroll was grossly out of proportion, in relation to their results, and the club and management was taking daily beatings in the media. Even Stern expressed disappointment following the Anucha Browne-Sanders trial; the commissioner wanted Dolan and Madison Square Garden to settle and avoid the ensuing spectacle that resulted.

Everyone felt the Knicks had finally moved on when Thomas left, only to learn he never really left after all. And after hearing Dolan's comments, evidently Thomas remains linked to the organization, however unofficially.

It's weird, it's awkward and it goes against all reasonable logic to almost everyone except the two men whose relationship somehow survived the stormiest of storms. Do you give Dolan and Thomas credit for their fortitude, or shake your head over what almost just happened?

Let me guess what your reaction is.

Probably a lot stronger than the second option.

Especially if you're a Knicks fan who endured a lost decade and waited impatiently until Thomas' mistakes were finally erased (Eddy Curry is still on the roster, so Isiah's fingerprints will last at least another year).

It's easy to see why Thomas wanted back in. He's trying to rehabilitate himself so he can grab another GM job in the NBA. Thomas believes his mistakes were overly magnified in New York, media capital of the sports world, and that he also inherited a bad hand when he took the job. To an extent, both are true; however, Thomas didn't have a stellar run in New York. Even he admits as much. He sold his soul to Stephon Marbury, and oversaw the Larry Brown debacle, and gave too much money to too many players, and was the center of an ugly discrimination trial. Most organizations would distance themselves from such individual in fast-break speed, but most organizations aren't headed by Dolan.

So the Knicks were bailed out by a rulebook, and all seems well again in Gotham. But don't be fooled. Isiah Thomas has a direct line to the owner. Unofficially, of course. Whatever that means.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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