He was hired to break the rules. That is the first thing you need to understand about IsiahThomas' latest and briefest work for the Knicks, as a consultant. He was hired to break the rules.
NBA front-office employees are not allowed to watch high school players live. Of course, as Florida International's head coach, Thomas has to watch high school players live.
If he works for the Knicks, Thomas is not allowed to have any contact with college players unless they have used up their eligibility or declared for the draft. He is also not allowed to discuss their skills publicly. As FIU's coach, Thomas is supposed to ... um, coach underclassmen and talk about them in the postgame news conference.
It is literally impossible to do both jobs without breaking NBA rules. It's like if PETA hired you as a spokesperson and said you could keep your other job kicking puppies. The NBA had no choice but to void this arrangement -- and, presumably, the Knicks finally figured that out. Thomas issued a statement Wednesday saying he's giving up his new role with his old franchise.
And this leads to the question:
How stupid are the Knicks?
I try not to use the word "stupid" very often. It's cruel, for one thing, and usually unfair. For example: this week, the Mariners fired Don Wakamatsu, the first Japanese-American manager in baseball history, on Japanese Heritage Night at their ballpark. That seems stupid (and also utterly hilarious) but really, it was probably just bad communication, unfortunate timing, the baseball side not realizing what the business side was doing until it was too late. We all make mistakes.
But hiring Isiah Thomas, Florida International head coach, as a consultant ... THAT is stupid. Knicks owner Jim Dolan might as well put up a big billboard across from that infamous Jay-Z/Mikhail Prokhorov New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets billboard that says:
We Have No Idea What We're Doing
And here is what makes it so stupid: anybody with any clue heard the news that the Knicks hired a college coach as a consultant and asked: "Is that legal?" Even Thomas was skeptical -- he called the NCAA to make sure it was OK.
The Knicks didn't have to announce this. They could have called the NBA first to see if this was a problem. They could have texted, they could have e-mailed, they could have sent one of those New York City bike messengers to run over six pedestrians on the way to DavidStern's office. Then Stern could have explained that no, he did not feel like letting the Knicks hire somebody to break the rules, and the Knicks could have shrugged and nobody would have known the difference.
Instead, they managed to take two p.r. hits for one botched hire. They get a hit for trying to hire Isiah, who is as popular in New York as bedbugs, and they get another for not knowing the rules.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh has been an executive in the league forever -- it's impossible to believe he would be this clueless. But, of course, he isn't. This wasn't a Walsh move -- it was Dolan all the way.
Dolan loves Isiah almost as much as Isiah does. They are, in a way, the perfect imperfect match. Dolan wants to prove that he isn't just a spoiled rich kid, that he belongs in a league with those who earned their wealth and fame. Thomas, one of the great players in NBA history, always has an angle, always has a spin. Isiah wants his general-manager job back, and Dolan is obviously still smitten by an all-time great who tells him what he wants to hear.
One can only imagine the private conversations between Thomas and Dolan. Isiah has probably convinced Dolan that Isiah was the one who suggested the ball should be round.
Ultimately, this latest debacle should have zero long-term effect on the Knicks. Isiah didn't have the job long enough to screw it up. And yet, of all the foolish moves that the Knicks have made over the last decade, I think this one is the most depressing for Knicks fans.
Nobody understood why Dolan kept Thomas as his general manager all those years, but at least then, Dolan exhibited two qualities you want from an owner: he spent a ton of money and he gave his general manager time to install his plan. This would have worked better if Isiah actually had a plan. Nonetheless, you could almost sort of believe that if Dolan gave a good general manager money and time, his team would win.
How can you believe that now? How much longer can Walsh sit there and let Dolan wreck his reputation? If Allan Houston takes over for Walsh, do you really believe that Houston -- who has limited front-office experience -- can keep Hurricane Dolan from wrecking the ship?
Well, Jim Dolan just tried to hire a guy that his fans hate and his president surely didn't want, and who already messed up his franchise. He tried to do it against NBA rules, and is apparently so clueless that it didn't even occur to him that this was against NBA rules. Knicks fans would love to believe in a future that includes Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and/or Chris Paul. But it's hard to believe when an owner does something this stupid.