IN LATE MARCH,with their horrific 2005-06 season limping to a close, Knicks president IsiahThomas sat at a table next to coach Larry Brown at the team's training site inTarrytown, N.Y., and said an interesting thing. "With us rebuilding, you'vegot to keep your mind on three years from now," Thomas (right) said."Fortunately, we have a coach who has had so much success and hascredibility in this league so we can do that. He's coming off back-to-backfinals where he won one and lost in the seventh game. He didn't become dumbovernight."
Now, it seems,Thomas, who built the team with the NBA's highest payroll and second-worstrecord, has changed his mind. Knicks owner Jim Dolan is reportedly consideringa buyout of the remainder of Brown's five-year, $50 million contract and theappointment of Thomas to replace him--a move that would surprise no onefamiliar with Knicks intrigue and Brown's ongoing health problems. On Monday,Brown's agent, Joe Glass, said that Thomas denied such a plan was in the works.But during the March interview, Brown made it clear he would understand ifDolan cut him loose. "He made a bad hire--right now, that's the way I lookat it," Brown said. "I think I've done a terrible job."
There was noimprovement in the ensuing weeks, but by then no one expected it. Brown hadlittle use for his overpaid roster, particularly point guard Stephon Marbury,and the feeling was mutual. All season he had roasted his players after nearlyevery game--"I never in my life thought I'd be in a position where you'rebegging guys to play," he said after a typical loss to Washington. HisMarch 11 spat with Marbury played out publicly for days, and though Dolanreportedly asked for it to stop, neither Thomas nor the image-obsessedmanagement types at Madison Square Garden appeared too interested in quellingit. It seemed like some kind of admission: Things can't get any worse, so whynot let the damn boat sink.
Thomas shruggedoff the skirmish when asked about it, and added, "I'm riding with thecoach. This is an organization where he and I are going to build it the way wethink basketball should be played and the way people should conductthemselves."
Despite a 21/2-year record of frenetic and so far pointless deal-making, Thomas has yetagain managed to keep Dolan's backing. But if the coach is ushered out, Thomaswill be forced to solve the problems he once handed off to Brown; it's his necknow on the tabloid cutting block. "It's a bloody job," Thomas saidabout rebuilding a team in public. It turns out things could get worse afterall.