New York Knicks: The 6 Worst Decisions of the James Dolan Era
Though the New York Knicks have a proud fanbase of which I am an equally proud member, there is one man associated with the team whom we all hate with a passion: owner James Dolan (pictured).
For as long as I can remember, the man has consistently made decisions that have hurt the team and thus kept them from contending for a championship. Be it odd hirings/firings or decisions regarding players, Dolan simply doesn't know what he's doing. Even NBA commissioner David Stern has criticized the Knicks' management tactics under Dolan, so this clearly isn't a mere issue of disgruntled fans complaining.
Still, I would like to pose a question to all of you Knicks fans out there. Out of all of Dolan's horrible decisions, which one is the worst? Was it his longstanding tolerance of former point guard Stephon Marbury's attitude? Or maybe the legendary Allan Houston contract?
Seeing as how the Olympics are currently underway in London, I say let the debating games begin as we look at six infamous Dolan decisions and determine which one is the worst.
No. 6: Letting Jeremy Lin Walk
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Lin, an undrafted Harvard graduate, broke out for the Knicks starting in February of last season as he led the team in the absences of both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. In putting up great numbers both in the scoring and passing departments, New York was overcome with a feeling that came to be known as "Linsanity."
As he entered restricted free agency in the offseason, the Knicks were in a prime position to bring him back, as he was granted his early-Bird rights, meaning that the team could go over the salary cap a certain amount to re-sign him.
Instead of immediately making a qualifying offer, Dolan and GM Glen Grunwald chose to take their chances and let him test the market with the intention of matching an offer if he got one. At that point, Knicks coach Mike Woodson went on the record and said that the dynamic point guard would "absolutely" be back in New York for the upcoming season (h/t SI.com).
However, such was not to be. The Houston Rockets offered Lin a heavily backloaded contract that would have caused salary cap issues for the Knicks in the long run. Instead of matching it and striking gold on the multiple merchandising opportunities Lin's presence could have provided, Dolan told his front office execs not to match the offer because he felt "betrayed" by Lin asking the Rockets for more money (h/t Dan Devine, Yahoo! Sports).
Now, instead of having a roster that seemed like a surefire bet to go far in the playoffs, the Knicks have to gamble on Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd running the point. Seeing as how fans saw how New York did last year without a solid point man, some will surely be shaking their fists at Dolan should the new year be a repeat of last season.
No. 5: Sticking with Stephon Marbury
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Now, when the Knicks first acquired Stephon Marbury back in 2004, it was a good trade for the team. He was a point guard with a knack for scoring as well as he passed. In his 47 games with New York that season, the Brooklyn native averaged 19.8 points and 9.3 assists per game as he was instrumental in getting the Knicks back to the playoffs that season.
Though they were swept in the first round by the New Jersey Nets, the future looked bright.
Unfortunately, the future was anything but that for the Knicks. At the time, they were a defensive-minded team and the offense-oriented Marbury refused to adapt to that style of play. In his five seasons with the team, he was responsible for not one but two Hall of Fame coaches being driven out of New York: Lenny Wilkens and Larry Brown.
The Knicks would go on to become the laughingstock of the NBA in Marbury's remaining years with the team before he was finally benched in 2008 and finally bought out in 2009, putting an end to one of the darkest periods in franchise history.
Why Dolan allowed such a clubhouse cancer to remain for so long is a mystery to me, as Marbury was responsible for the downfall of a once-prominent franchise.
No. 4: Hiring Scott Layden as GM
photo courtesy of deseretnews.com
Though many may give this particular label to another individual, Scott Layden may very well be the worst GM in Knicks history. He performed that role from 1999 to 2003, and the decisions he and his successor (who we shall discuss later) made were so horrendous that ESPN labeled the Knicks the worst franchise in sports.
That said, allow me to give you Layden's first-round draft history and the top players taken after his picks:
1999: Frederic Weis, C, France. St. John's star forward Ron Artest was taken right after him.
2000: The Knicks had no first-round pick, as it was traded away in the deal that sent Patrick Ewing to the Seattle SuperSonics and brought sharpshooter Glen Rice to the Knicks. New York did also have the 22nd pick in this draft and took Donnell Harvey, only to immediately trade him to the Dallas Mavericks. No real loss here.
2001: No first-round pick.
2002: Layden drafted Nene Hilario, only to trade him and popular big man Marcus Camby to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess and a draft pick that was used to select Illinois guard Frank Williams. McDyess was constantly injured with the Knicks and appeared in just 18 games for the team while Williams was a bust.
2003: Mike Sweetney, PF, Georgetown. No true star was taken after him, but he struggled with weight issues.
Throw in some questionable contracts like the infamous Allan Houston deal, which we will get to in a minute, and you have to wonder just why Dolan stuck with Layden for so long.
No. 3: The Allan Houston Contract
I'll be the first to admit that when he was with the Knicks, I was a huge Allan Houston fan. The man was a phenomenal scorer and great shooter, and he did a great job of carrying the offensive load on his back and coming up big in close games.
Yet, besides his scoring abilities, Houston wasn't much to write home about. On a defense-oriented Knicks team, he was the guy whose job it was to put the points on the board and let everyone else do the rest on the other end of the floor.
Still, Dolan was so high on the man that he gave then-GM Scott Layden the approval to sign Houston, who had spent the last five years in New York and was now a free agent, to a six-year deal worth $100 million. This trumped all other teams' offers, as none offered Houston more than $75 million.
While Houston was certainly talented, he had never averaged above 20 points per game in a season and this ridiculous deal financially hamstrung the Knicks, as they could not bring in other talent due to being over the cap. Sure enough, Houston's knees gave out and he retired with two years and $40 million remaining on his deal.
As a result, the NBA's CBA now has an amnesty clause that when initially proposed was called the "Allan Houston Rule."
No. 2: Keeping Don Chaney as Coach for so Long
photo courtesy of uhcougars.com
At the start of the 2001-2002 season, the Knicks got off to a slow start and coach Jeff Van Gundy resigned after just 19 games, citing a "lack of focus" (h/t SI.com). He was replaced by assistant Don Chaney, who had previously been the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets.
Honestly, to this day, I still don't know why Dolan chose to let Chaney coach the Knicks for the remainder of that season and on up until he was fired in December 2003.
Here was a man who had just one good season under his belt as a coach, but also a horrific 2-9 playoff record. Surely there must have been another more qualified candidate Dolan could have hired to keep up the team's winning ways?
Thought that may or may not have been the case, Chaney's short tenure in New York was awful, as he went 72-112 as the Knicks coach before being replaced by Lenny Wilkens. Still, as bad as this decision was, there is one Dolan blunder that ranks high above them all.
No. 1: The Dolan-Isiah Bromance
photo courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com
After Scott Layden was fired in 2003, Dolan replaced him with Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas. The ex-Detroit Pistons star made a grand entrance. Just two weeks into his tenure with the Knicks, he traded for star point guard Stephon Marbury, who led the team back to the playoffs under the leadership of new coach Lenny Wilkens. Yet, the honeymoon was short as Thomas went from being the Knicks' seeming savior to the man who sunk the franchise.
Over the next few years, Thomas would make questionable decisions, such as trade first-round draft picks that turned out to be lottery ones in talent-laden drafts, in a deal for Eddy Curry. Dolan even approving this deal is a sign that he has no clue what he is doing as owner of a pro basketball team.
Such decisions would continue as Thomas would hand out max-level deals to players like Jerome James and Jared Jeffries, neither of whom were worth near that amount of money. Yet, Dolan just stood by and let Thomas do his job badly.
Even worse, after Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown was fired after just one season, Dolan named Thomas head coach. In his two full seasons manning the helm, the Knicks would go 56-108.
Oh, and let's not forget the embarrassing sexual harassment lawsuit involving Thomas and former MSG employee Anucha Browne Sanders, in which the Knicks were forced to pay $11.5 million.
Ready for the crazy part? Despite the fact that Thomas essentially ran the Knicks into the ground, Dolan supposedly still consults him on major decisions involving the Knicks.