“Fire Isiah” chants can be heard from the rafters, can be read in newspapers, and are daily fodder for talk radio. But what has gotten far less discussion in mainstream media is any thoughtful separation between “Isiah-the-coach” and “Isiah the GM”. Such a discussion might mess up the only existing narrative put forth by our media which is: "Isiah Thomas (and James Dolan) are the worst executives in the history of sports". But a close look reveal that in 2007 Isiah the GM is not the problem, Isiah the Coach is.
Isiah-the-Coach: He performed well last year. Knick fans will tell you that wins were scarce, but the effort and energy was there every single night. The year brought optimism for this year because in between the terrible opeming adjustment period (pre-Denver fight) and before the major injuries hit in March, the Knicks played .500 ball for more than two months and was on course for the playoffs. This year was supposed to be the next step. So what went wrong? Didn’t Isiah buy all the ingredients? As such shouldn’t he know how to cook this meal? Yeah he should… but he didn’t, and here is why:
So Where Did Isiah-the-Coach Go Wrong?
1) Death by “White Chocolate”: November 11, 2007 might very well might be the day the Knicks 2007 season died. The Knicks were 2-2 and played all four games quite hard. Then the following surreal sequence occurred: 1) Knicks beating Miami entire game; 2) With less than two minutes left, Miami steals a victory away from the Knicks; 3) Why? Stephon Marbury’s atrocious defense allows a broken down Jason Williams to reach back into his Sactown “White Chocolate” glory days; 4) an incensed Thomas overreacts and tells Marbury that he will not start the next game; 5) An incensed Marbury overreacts and goes AWOL after allegedly issuing threats to Isiah; 5) A gleeful New York media overreacts and goes buck wild in widening the chasm between the two; 6) Marbury comes back to team after missing a game; 7) team allegedly takes straw poll to see if Marbury should play; Allegedly, the poll answer is “no”; 9) Isiah plays Marbury anyway; 10) Because of benching fiasco, Isiah’s influence over Marbury may be permanently lost; 11) Because Thomas ignores straw poll, his influence over entire team may be permanently lost. …Damn that Jason Williams! It is quite possible that this article should have ended right here.
3) Substitution Patterns: As Michael Dunleavy put on his best Michael Jordan impression on Monday, once again I found myself yelling at my TV set: “put Jared Jeffries in the game, put Jared Jeffries in the game!”. The long-armed defensive Jeffries seemed like the perfect fit to cool off the “red-hot Dunleavy” (if I had a dime for everytime…). Jeffries did not play one minute. Was the Jeffries move the decision-maker in an eventual 27-point blowout? Not quite. Was it a moment that symbolized the entire season? Definitely. But rather than bring up every other Dunleavy-like moment where a new player gets a career high against the Knicks, let’s get to my biggest gripe:
4) Why can’t Renaldo Balkman get more burn? Firstly, Q Richardson’s off-season back-surgery and hyper-extended elbow seem to have drastically affected his shooting (32%!) this year. Also, the Knicks are 5-4 when Balkman gets at least 15 minutes per game. Does that small sample of a stat mean anything? I’m really not sure, but let’s find out!!! There seems to be a positive chain reaction when Renaldo is on the court. But the issue is bigger than Renaldo. It’s about…
5) Developing Talent: Last year Thomas did a good job at developing young talent. Eddy Curry began to develop into a low post offensive force, and for the first time in his career he started to be regularly double-teamed. Before his injury David Lee had a breakout year while averaging a double-double. Rookies Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins also showed budding promise. Besides Balkman, this year we were supposed to see Eddy pass out of the double-team, Lee add a jumper to his rebounding, and Collins get on the floor. It hasn’t happened. If all of these guys "hit their ceiling" then it is a GM thing. If not then it is a coaching thing. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
6) Zach and Eddy: On paper getting Randolph and Fred Jones for Channing Frye and Steve Francis is a steal. However, unless Zach is going to regularly get 5 assists a night like he did this past Saturday, his arrival seems to have stunted Eddy’s continued growth offensively. And if he is not needed to do heavy lifting offensively, Curry should not be on the floor. Curry will never rebound and play D, but can thrive in a system where he is paired up with a defensive-minded, shot-blocking power forward. Given his rare dominant low-post offense, and reasonable contract (9M), he could be a valuable trade asset to another team that complements his weaknesses. In the short-run Zach and Eddy’s minutes really must be limited together even if it means having one coming off the bench as a super-sub. Lee might not bring you much better interior defense, but he will get some extra rebounds, put-backs, and leave more space in that post for Zach or Eddy to get into their flow.
What now short-run? So what went wrong since the budding promise of last year? Was it the Marbury benching? The straw poll? The frozen starting line-up? His substitution patterns? The pressure from the early losses? The vicious New York media? The booing fans? All of the above? Who knows? But this team has regressed instead of moved forward. It is now reported that Isiah is FINALLY considering some line-up changes and won’t even rule out removing himself. StopMikeLupica already proposed the Isiah-the-GM remove Isiah-the-coach scenario and implement Herb Williams (see Pat Riley-Stan Van Gundy in Miami). If there isn’t drastic improvement by the end of December, we are on board with this plan. Does that mean the popular and only-media-mentioned “blow the whole team up” plan is best. No. This talented squad deserves to be coached correctly to see what it can really do. If Isiah can’t do it, someone else should.
What now long-run? One or two trades are still in order to correct the structural flaws on this roster. Despite the unrealistic "chemistry critics", the Knick’s past trade assets gave Thomas no such luxury to worry about “chemistry” while desperate for acquiring talent. Now with upcoming expiring contracts (Marbury, Rose, Jones) and a deep young roster of assets (Curry, Balkman, & Lee) there is reasonable room for improvement. Wasn’t it only last year that Danny Ainge was in the running for the worst executive in basketball?
Final Disclaimer: If the Knicks go on an 18 game winning streak, please disregard this article!
 The exception to this rule is when a team gets that lucky #1 pick in one of those special lucky years (i.e. Lew Alcindor to Bucks)