Isiah Thomas: 2006 Knicks Head Coach?

I usually don’t comment on things that are rumors before they actually happen. It’s a simple rule I gave myself because often enough the rumors tend to be just that, and the time I spent on the article could have been used on something more productive. However there are a few stories that are either worth the mention or are highly likely to occur that it makes sense to spend the time to investigate them.

The current rumor circulating the New York papers is the possibility of the Knicks buying out the remaining 4 years of Larry Brown’s contract and Isiah Thomas assuming the role of head coach. Between Brown’s wanderlust, Dolan’s loyalty to Isiah, and Thomas’ infinite confidence in himself, this one seems to heading to fruition. As far as rumors go, throw this in the “I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen” pile.

The results of such a move might mean a short term gain for the Knicks. Brown’s career record prior to New York was excellent, one step back then two steps forward. However it seemed that he never found his groove in the Garden. There are many theories abound on why Larry’s first year with the Knicks was a disaster. One theory holds that Brown was unable to mesh with Stephon Marbury. Another was that the Knicks personnel was ill-fit for Brown’s grind them down defensive style of play. The latest rumor is that Larry’s passive-aggressive way of criticizing the team publicly instead of behind close doors led to his own self destruction. Most likely the truth is a little bit of each of these.

It’s obvious that bringing in Isiah to coach the team would help these issues. In Isiah’s 3 years as Indiana head coach, the Pacers were in the top 10 in league pace twice. The Knicks don’t have the spot up shooters nor the post up presence to run a strong half court offense. They lack the interior shot blocking presence and a perimeter stopper to play a standard half court defense as well. Changing to a coach that likes to run, or is flexible enough to play to the Knicks’ strengths should mean a few extra wins next season. At worst an up-tempo game might make a 50 loss season more bearable to watch.

Psychologically, Isiah might be the ideal person to turn the team around. First off Isiah has a strong relationship with Stephon Marbury, and would likely put the ball back in the hands of the Knicks’ best offensive player. Secondly, with Zeke as the Knicks coach, the players won’t have to read the papers to find out where they stand. Finally, the Knicks won’t have the GM/Coach power struggle that marred them last year. Isiah the coach will only have himself to blame if the team construction isn’t to his liking, as he personally signed off on the deals that brought each player to New York.

However while there are positives to Isiah assuming the sideline duties, let’s put a few things into perspective. First off the Knicks were one of the league’s worst teams last year, so even a 38 win season might be seen as an accomplishment for them. However that would give the Knicks their 6th straight losing season, which isn’t something to be proud of. Additionally, there is no guarantee that Isiah Thomas is a good coach. His Indiana teams only finished more than 2 games over .500 once and they never won a playoff series. And let’s not ignore the obvious reason, that under Isiah Thomas’ management the Knicks have become the laughing stock of the league.

So if Dolan decides to stick with Isiah, and Isiah thinks that he is the only one that can turn this team around on the court, how will the situation play out? Well the offical KnickerBlogger Crystal Ball? offers a few possible futures for the Knicks. The best case scenario: Isiah the coach realizes what a genius “Isiah the young talent evaluator” is and what a moron “Isiah the free agent cap specialist” is. He vows not to add any more high and long term contracts to the team. Dr. David Crockett is hired to oversee all cap activity.

The new Isiah does everything he can to stockpile picks, and digs through the NBDL and unsigned draftees to fill in the team’s needs. Unloading big contracts where he can, the Knicks return to a respectable level in regards to the salary cap, leaving Steven A. Smith and Charles Barkley without any salary cap jokes. Unable to think of anything clever to yell, and with the help of guru Phil Jackson, Smith and Barkley find inner peace in silence for the first time in their life. They enter a monastery in a remote Pacific island, and 5 years later world peace is achieved.

Another scenario has Isiah Thomas unable to turn the team around and the players revolt against him. With the team in a downward spiral and fans staying away from MSG as if it were infested with the bird flu, Dolan fires Thomas and brings in Jerry Colangelo. Isiah is brought on to preside over the Atlanta Hawks, and Colangelo jumps on the opportunity. Jerry is able to unload a few contracts and acquire a few of the Hawks unprotected draft picks, and the Knicks gear up for a 2009 run at the playoffs.

The worst case scenario? Due to an easy early the schedule the Knicks are a few games over .500. Jealous of the special treatment given to Eddy Curry, Channing Frye goes public with his displeasure of the team and ends up in Isiah’s doghouse. Smelling the revenue payoff from a possible postseason appearance, Dolan orders Isiah to make the playoffs. In January, Zeke packages the troubled Frye and speedy Nate along with some expiring contracts and a few draft picks to the Heat for Antoine Walker. The 2007 Knicks tank ala the 2005 Knicks, and miss the playoffs by 9 games. In 2011 the Bulls finally unseat the Cavs in the East commencing a friendly off the court (but bitter on the court) rivalry between LeBron James and Greg Oden (acquired with the Knicks 2007 first round pick) that lasts for nearly a decade. The two film a McDonalds commercial reprising the Larry Bird-Michael Jordan game of horse.

What’s likely to happen? Well the 2007 Knicks will probably improve by some amount, just because the 2006 team was so bad. Isiah will feel justified with the improvement, and the effort earns him at least another year as the president of the organization under Dolan. However he is unable to bring in an impact player, and the 2008 team does not make the playoffs. The press catches on that Isiah tenure has lasted as long as Scott Layden’s without any positive results, and harps on the issues that the under Thomas the Knicks haven’t produces a single playoff win. Dolan caves in to the media and fan pressure and finally sends Isiah packing.

Unfortunately for Knick fans, the next few seasons are unlikely to be fruitful unless Isiah unearths a pair of studs with the 20th and 29th picks in the draft, or Kevin Garnett demands to be traded to the Big Apple. With Dolan steadfast in his belief that Isiah will turn the team around, and with Isiah showing little understanding of his own strengths & weaknesses there seems to be little to believe that the Knicks are going to be anything other than a lower-to-middle of the road team.

Round 2 Odds & A Quickie

Before I get to the odds, during the Spurs-Mavs game today the announcers were talking about the Suns-Clippers series. Dufus-philosopher Bill Walton’s two sentence analysis of the Suns-Clippers series went something to the effect of Phoenix “has found it’s offense” and mentioned the name of “Barbosa, Diaw, & Nash”. That prompted me to do 2 things. The first was to seek out my local bookmaker and consider putting every spare cent I have on the Clippers. (Luckily for Ms. KnickerBlogger, I’m not a gambler).

The second was to officially proclaim Shawn Marion as the NBA’s most underrated player. According to my stat page, he’s 9th overall in PER, two places ahead of his teammate-MVP. Yet Steve Nash wins back-to-back MVP awards while Marion gets a single 5th place vote. “The Matrix” averaged 18 points on 47% shooting (eFG), 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks in the first round of the playoffs. He had double digit points in every game, 20 points or more in 4 games (and scored 19 in another), and 3 double-doubles. And poor Shawn is forgotten on national tv.

Funny thing is, if I were forced to pick an upset it would be the Suns. Just because it took them 6.5 games to dispense with the Lakers, while the Clippers bounced out the Nuggets in 5 despite “earning” the road field advantage. However according to the odds based on the season’s records, it’s the Heat and Spurs that are most likely to be upset. Prior to creating the below chart, I wouldn’t have thought the Spurs or Heat to be vulnerable.

San Antonio has won 2 of the last 3 championships and finished this year with the best record in the West, so you wouldn’t imagine them to be in trouble in the second round. However this odd playoff format has pitted them against the second best team in the West. The winner of this series should have an easier time in the next round, against an inferior opponent. Meanwhile a 59 game season from Shaq left the Heat with “only” a .634 winning percentage, close to the Nets .598. So maybe New Jersey doesn’t have as good a chance as the chart below would indicate. On the other hand, if Dwayne Wade takes another hard tumble or any part of Shaq acts up, then the Nets will have a good chance to advance to the East Conference Finals. So in a way, maybe the regular season takes into account the Heat’s fragility, and hence is a true representation of New Jersey’s odds.

  One Game Home Game 5 Game 7 Game 5 Games (modified for home field) 7 Games (modified for home field)
Spurs 54.8% 64.5% 58.9% 60.4% 61.2% 63.0%
Pistons 69.4% 77.3% 82.9% 86.6% 83.6% 87.3%
Heat 53.8% 63.6% 57.1% 58.3% 59.4% 61.0%
Suns 59.0% 68.4% 66.5% 69.1% 68.3% 71.1%