Isiah Thomas and his New York Knicks have become the running joke of the NBA.
Thomas became the President of Operation in 2003, taking over a team way over the salary cap and with little talent or trade bait. They finished 30-52 in 2001-2002 and followed up 37-45 in 2002-2003.
They had a salary cap number of $93 million.
Below is the 2002-2003 roster and salary.
Player 2002-03 Salary Total Contract Signed Through
Allan Houston $14,343,750 7-yr; 100.41M 2006-07
Antonio McDyess $12,600,000 6-yr; 67.5M 2003-04
Latrell Sprewell $11,937,500 5-yr ;61.9M 2003-04 (p)
Shandon Anderson $6,100,000 6-yr; 42.0M 2006-07
Charlie Ward $5,570,000 6-yr; 28.0M + 2002-03 (p)
Howard Eisley $5,312,500 7-yr; 41.0M 2005-06 (t)
Clarence Weatherspoon $4,991,800 5-yr; 27.23M 2005-06
Kurt Thomas $4,903,750 3-yr; 13.0M 2003-04 (t)
Travis Knight $4,000,000 7-yr; 22.0M 2003-04
Othella Harrington $2,700,000 7-yr; 17.33M 2004-05
Michael Doleac $1,400,000 2-yr; 3.00M 2003-04
Frank Williams $832,560 4-yr; 4.40M 2004-05 (t)
Mark Pope $637,435 1-yr; 637,435 2002-03
Lee Nailon $587,435 1-yr; 587,435 2002-03
Lavor Postell $587,435 2-yr; 1.05M 2002-03
In Thomas' first year, he tried to turn the team around by add talent and getting younger. Two of their best players—Antonio McDyess and Allan Houston—were battling injuries, and Latrell Sprewell was set to opt out of his contract.
Unlike in the NFL and MLB where you can easily revamp a team, the NBA and its salary cap structure does not allow for an easy transition.
You have to trade for equal salary, find a team under the cap to dump salary, or just wait until a contract runs out and draft well.
Thomas did transform the Knicks' roster the next year.
He changed the faces of the franchise by bringing in over 10 different players. He found Phoenix trying to dump Stephon Marbury's salary and brought the former All-Star point guard back East.
The following year he brought in the young Jamal Crawford to replace Houston's scoring void and to pair with Marbury in the backcourt.
In 2005-2006, he added Larry Brown as head coach and players Eddie Curry, Quentin Richardson, Steve Francis, Jerome James, Maurice Taylor, and Jalen Rose. He drafted Channing Frye and David Lee.
This is the year that most Knicks fans point to as the season Thomas made all his major blunders. While this may be true, this is also the year Isiah went for it.
He had his eye on Kevin Garnett and on making major changes to the core of the team. He now had the salary to package along with young pieces and big names.
However, the moves never materialized, and Larry Brown was unable to provide the consistency on the bench the team needed to gel. Thomas threw the dice and lost, but at least he tried.
Fast forward to this season, and Thomas is sitting on the hottest seat in sports.
The Knicks are once again out of the playoffs and Eddie Curry and Zach Randolph can't play together. Marbury has been nothing but a distraction, and Knicks fans are miserable. "Fire Isiah" chants rain from MSG crowds and NBA analysts.
They say that if Thomas had gotten under the cap, hadn't have traded for him, or signed him, the Knicks would would have been back on top.
It is the same thing you heard in Boston about Danny Ainge and Billy King. King took the fall and his team is in playoff contention, and we all know what Boston is doing this year.
Where are the "Fire Danny Ainge" people now? They are praising how he transformed his struggling team into one the league's best.
How? By taking on some bad salaries, drafting young pieces, and taking chances.
Above was the roster Thomas was given to start his New York career. Here is where the team is today and with contracts moving forward.
Player 2008 2009 2010
Stephon Marbury $20,840,625
Zach Randolph $14,666,667 $16,000,000 $17,333,333
Eddy Curry $9,723,983 $10,500,423 $11,276,863
Quentin Richardson $8,685,500 $8,700,000
Jamal Crawford $8,640,000 $9,360,000 $10,080,000
Malik Rose $7,647,500
Jerome James $6,200,000 $6,600,000
Jared Jeffries $6,049,400 $6,466,600 $ 6,883,800
Nate Robinson $2,020,179 $2,911,078
Renaldo Balkman $1,369,920 $2,112,417 $3,027,094
David Lee $1,788,033 $2,682,050
Mardy Collins $1,034,760 $1,867,742 $2,801,613
Wilson Chandler $977,900 $1,046,200 $1,775,401
TOTALS $89,644,467 $68,246,510
It is a much younger team, with lots more talent and pieces to trade.
I am not saying Isiah Thomas does not deserve any criticism as has he not made all the best moves. But being under the salary cap is overrated, and what free agents are they missing out on anyway?
He does have a good eye for young talent in the draft. Having young talent to give up along with salary is the best way to bring in veteran stars. Give Thomas some credit for giving the Knicks some pieces to work with in the future.
This team is not a polished product, and they do struggle playing together. This year has been a struggle to watch or even root for.
But I don't think that this is why they have been assembled. I think its part of a larger plan. At the end of next year is when I feel it is fair to judge Thomas.
If the Knicks make no moves and show little improvement, the axe should fall.
Until then, go back and see what Scott Layden left the Knicks to work with and compare it to what they have to work with now.