Sports Outside the Beltway

NY Knicks fire coach Isiah Thomas

This news hardly comes as a surprise.

NEW YORK – Isiah Thomas couldn’t win as coach with the players he assembled as president. Now, he’s lost both jobs. Thomas was fired as the New York Knicks coach Friday after a season of listless and dreadful basketball, a tawdry lawsuit and unending chants from fans demanding his dismissal.

Thomas lost a franchise record-tying 59 games this season, and along the way seemed to lose the support of his players, who didn’t always play hard for him the way they did last season.


Thomas was hired as the Knicks’ team president on Dec. 22, 2003, and he acquired Marbury from Phoenix weeks later. The Knicks made the playoffs that season, getting swept by New Jersey, but haven’t gone back despite their annual spot atop the league’s highest payroll list.

Though the salary cap was already out of whack by the time Thomas arrived, he didn’t help matters with some questionable moves. He gave a $30 million contract in the summer of 2005 to center Jerome James, a career 4.3 points per game scorer who hasn’t been healthy or productive, and seems bothered by neither. A year later, Thomas used his mid-level exception on Jared Jeffries, who has limited offensive skills.

Still, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan remained confident in Thomas, even making him coach in June 2006 after firing Larry Brown following one season. But that came with an ultimatum, as Dolan warned Thomas to show “evident progress” in one season or be fired from both positions.

The Knicks went 33-49 last season. Dolan rewarded Thomas with a multiyear contract extension with more than a month left after New York moved into eighth place, but the Knicks collapsed under a series of injuries and missed the postseason.

Things went poorly this season from the time training camp opened.

The jury came back with its verdict that day, finding that Thomas and MSG sexually harassed former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders and ordering the company to pay $11.6 million in damages. Criticized by Al Sharpton and Rutgers women’s coach C. Vivian Stringer for comments he made in his taped deposition, Thomas seemed downcast during most of training camp — and never had much reason for better spirits when the season began.

The Knicks started 2-1, then dropped eight in a row as the Thomas-Marbury feud sent the season spiraling out of control. Marbury responded to Thomas’ plans to bench him by skipping a game in Phoenix, and the players reportedly voted to make Marbury sit out a game when he returned. Instead, Thomas played the point guard more than 33 minutes off the bench in a game in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

It soon became obvious that Thomas’ draft night acquisition of Zach Randolph had set back Curry, who lost his confidence and later his starting job. Speculation was rampant by Thanksgiving that Thomas’ job was in jeopardy, and it only heated up after the Knicks’ nationally televised 104-59 loss at Boston on Nov. 29.

The Thomas era in New York was unquestionably a debacle. The team struggled on the court and had problems off. If a team is successful, the later will often be ignored or brushed aside. Not so with the underperforming Knicks, the NY area media helped magnify the disarray going on with the team. I grew up in New York and the Knicks were the basketball team I followed. The teams were led by Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and Dave DeBusschere. After they were gone, there was Toby Knight who my father once coached in a youth basketaball league on Long Island. There’s nothing about today’s Knicks to help me regain the interest I once had in basketball. Here in South Florida we have more than our share of dysfunctional sports franchises.

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