Several media outlets are reporting that would-be bluesman and team owner James Dolan is set to announce that Isiah Thomas will return as coach and all around Grand Poobah of the New York Knickerbockers. The announcement is expected to include a multi-year contract extension.
Dolan had previously said that he would not discuss Thomas’ fate until after the season, giving the impression that his fate was tied to whether the Knicks make the playoffs. However, with the team currently holding the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the East, Dolan apparently feels that the the team has achieved the “evident progress” he specified (without actually specifying it) as a pre-condition for Thomas’ return.
Without getting into the question of whether the team’s current improvement is merely regression to the mean–let’s hold onto that question for after the season–it is clear that Dolan was predisposed to re-confirm his own decision to hire Thomas. Thus he never intended to fully specify the meaning of “evident progress,” certain that these Knicks couldn’t be worse than last year’s bunch. Nevertheless, I suspect that he must have also considered the sorry state of coaching (and executive) talent in the league. Certainly, Knicks fans needn’t be reminded that pursuing the superstar coach and/or executive is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. At the same time, the veteran coaches who might take the New York job without demanding the same prima donna treatment as Larry Brown, like Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, Terry Stotts, Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, etc. are themselves mostly piloting ships at various stages of submersion. Any of those coaches might improve the Knicks at the margins but none would be considered even money bets to fundamentally alter what this franchise can aspire to.
So as a fan I am not singularly happy, sad, or neutral about the prospect of Thomas returning. I am ambivalent; all of the above. On one hand, I am not jumping with glee. On the other hand, Thomas is the devil we know. Plus considering that he is now operating under a kind of fiscal austerity plan, effectively tethering him to the draft, his worst impulse–to get the most talent out of every deal regardless of fit or fiscal implication–is less openly self-destructive. Perhaps just as importantly, given the shallow pool of coaching and executive talent, the odds of Dolan being able to ferret out potential greatness or potentially fatal flaws in a pool of similar candidates are frighteningly low.
Alas, there is no great moral to the end of the Thomas tale. It’s just an ending. Sometimes that’s all you get.