Toronto GM Rob Babcock was fired today, and it’s ironic that his former team is not even in last place in their division. The Knicks are below the Raptors in winning percentage, but somehow the Knicks are actually ahead in the “games behind” column. Unlike the Knicks, the Raptors don’t have the luxury of the league’s biggest payroll. Nor do they have a shoe-in hall of fame coach roaming their sidelines. They don’t have the advantage of being one of the biggest sports market in the US. Toronto has to recruit athletes for a winter sport in one of the colder cities in the league. Hell they don’t even collect the American dollar at the gates. And as of today, they’re still doing better than the Knicks.
Since Toronto has opened up the can of worms on firing GMs, I’d like to broach the topic on whether the Knicks should keep Isiah? Right now he’s put together a dubious roster that even Larry Brown can’t get to win more a third of their games. The only thing worse than Isiah’s judgment on NBA talent might be his understanding of the NBA’s salary cap. Just like the team Isiah has inherited, the Knicks lead the league in salary while remaining south of the .500 mark.
Thomas’ strength is his uncanny ability to spot talent in the draft, but he’s traded the next two Knick first round picks. The traded draft picks mean that Isiah won’t be able to use his greatest trait, but it also means he’s removed his second best trait. Look at the Knicks roster & ask who are the Knicks best assets? Personally I would choose Marbury, Frye, Curry, Crawford, Lee, Davis, and Ariza. All of those players except for Crawford were either drafted by the Knicks or acquired with draft picks. Marbury cost the Knicks their 2004 pick, a future 1st round pick, and the 30th pick in the 2003 draft (Maciej Lampe). Curry and Davis came to New York for the Knicks 2006 first rounder, the option to swap 2007 first rounders, two second rounders, and the 9th overall pick in 2003 (Mike Sweetney). Isiah’s track record sans drafting and using picks as bait has been unimpressive. Of his 8 trades, only 3 didn’t have the Knicks shipping away a draft pick, the inconsequential Weatherspoon/Norris swap, the controversial Nazr to the Spurs, and the ‘decision still pending’ Crawford deal. Free agency hasn’t been kind to Isiah either. Reclamation projects like Baker, Woods, and Butler have yet to bear any fruit. Even when given a little money to spend on free agents Thomas has gaffed with the knee slapping, side splitting (to everyone but Knick fans) 5 year deal to Jerome James.
Let’s stop for a second & think about this more objectively. Imagine we can clone the Knicks’ franchise, with everything remaining the same except they don’t have a GM. You’re the owner of a franchise with some promising young players that has mortgaged a bunch of its future draft picks and has the worst salary cap situation in sports. Would you hire a GM who has been successful in drafting players, trading draft picks, and has shown no ability in being able to reduce the salary cap? If the Bulls can turn it around in 2007 with a pair of first rounders and a load of capspace, the Knicks will only see one mid (Bulls ’07) and one late (Spurs ’06) first round pick so they won’t be able to take advantage of Isiah Thomas’ draft wizardry. Additionally, without those future draft picks, Isiah won’t be able to use his second favorite tactic: dangling picks in front of other teams looking to unload players (Marbury, Curry) that they’ve soured on.
Take a look at Isiah Thomas’ track record. Outside of the draft, Isiah’s acquisitions have been risky gambles. Some have turned out reasonably well (Nazr Mohammed, Jamal Crawford) while others have gone from harmless wastes of time (Vin Baker, Tim Thomas, Qyntel Woods) to the downright bad (Jerome James, Quentin Richardson, Malik Rose, Penny Hardaway). The rest are muddled with cap and trade implications (Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury) that make it hard to judge whether or not they were worth it. In baseball terms Isiah Thomas might be a Dave Kingman, Rob Deer, or Pete Incaviglia. Someone that hits for a low average, but is always swinging for the fences. Continuing the metaphor, the Knicks have a runner on third with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game. In this situation, Isiah Thomas is not the man you want at the plate. I’d rather have a slap hitter that can get that run home, than the guy who is going to strike out trying to put two on the scoreboard. Translating back to basketball, today’s New York Knicks need a guy that can dump some salary and grab some useful guys that can fill the rotation. As far as I’m concerned, Isiah Thomas has shown he’s not that guy.