Love him or hate him, Jim Dolan deserves more credit for the New York Knicks’ recent success than many would like to admit. Some may wind up eating their words.
More recently, Time Magazine’s July issue ranked Dolan, along with Marge Schott, the late, bigoted Cincinnati Reds owner, and Walter O’Malley, the man responsible for moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles, as one of the “top 10 most hated sports-team owners” of all time.
In the December GQ issue, Dolan makes the magazine’s list of “the least influential people of 2012,” which also includes Mitt Romney, Michelle Obama and Dwight Howard. They must have missed the election and the trade.
Dedicated Knicks fans have rightfully lambasted Dolan for his inept management over the past decade.
In response to a rundown of the “worst decisions of the James Dolan era” here at Bleacher Report, commenters looked under every rock for additional bad decisions and also gave their thoughts: “This article could be a 900-page trilogy,” “Dolan is horrible” and “If only James Dolan could fire himself.”
Now surely Dolan deserves a good heaping of all this venom. Isiah Thomas, Eddy Curry, Scott Layden, Stephon Marbury, bad trades, worse draft picks and the worst contracts can all be linked to the distracted Cablevision CEO.
Or is it “deserved,” as in the past?
Things began to change even before Amar’e Stoudemire suited up for the 2010-11 season, when Dolan and the Knicks began their current upswing, steadily improving in each of the past three years.
The Knicks’ quick turnaround from a desperately inescapable fiscal and underachieving quicksand can be attributed to the man James Dolan brought in: Donnie Walsh. Bucketsoverbroadway.com calls the move “the best decision of [Dolan’s] career.”
The winning team you see today is a direct result of Walsh’s moves as President of Basketball Operations. He masterfully cleared the crippling mess left by his predecessor, Thomas, dumping huge contracts and poor performers at a whiplash pace.
In less than three years (April 2008—February 2011) Walsh magically made a whole decade disappear—not a single Knick or contract from the Thomas era was left, including Thomas himself. The first thing Donnie Walsh did was meet with, and then fire, the Dolan loyalist.
They were all replaced with Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Mike D’Antoni, winning records, playoff appearances and, admittedly, some hefty contracts still. But at least these are paying off some.
Upon Walsh’s hiring, sny.tv quoted an exasperated-sounding Dolan in what turned out to be an accurate prediction of the future:
Donnie will have complete control over all basketball operations. I am confident that he is the right person to re-establish the Knicks as one of the league's elite teams. I appreciate the loyalty and patience our fans have shown over the last few years [and] strongly believe this change will put us back on track to become the successful basketball team that Knick fans everywhere deserve.
By the end of 2010-11, though, it seemed Dolan was falling back into his error-prone ways when he let Walsh walk after the two failed to ink a multi-year extension that possibly neither party really wanted.
Enter Glen Grunwald, whom Dolan anointed to succeed Walsh under the title “Executive Vice President and General Manager.” Dolan gave Grunwald a year in the interim position to finish “the job that Walsh started,” as the New York Times reported: "Over three years as their president, Walsh had given the Knicks respectability and relevance, but they still needed defenders, shooters and playmakers."
Grunwald delivered Tyson Chandler, Steve Novak and J.R. Smith (and Jeremy Lin) that first year and earned Dolan’s nod to continue on in the role.
This offseason, Grunwald may have one-upped himself, bringing in six solid players to fill the bench and provide veteran leadership: Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Ronnie Brewer, Pablo Prigioni, Rasheed Wallace and, of course, Raymond Felton. They are all outperforming expectations.
Two front office moves by James Dolan—re-hiring Donnie Walsh and promoting and keeping Glen Grunwald—have given fans the 2012-13 Knicks.
Which brings us to Jim Dolan’s best player move: snubbing Jeremy Lin. It was widely reported that Dolan was insulted by Lin’s contract maneuvering with the Houston Rockets. The New York Daily News said Dolan “felt betrayed.”
The notoriously stubborn owner let Lin go in favor of old, reliable Raymond Felton. Despite himself, this one worked out for Dolan. Felton (and Jason Kidd) were the last pieces of the Knicks puzzle: veteran, pass-first point guards focused on feeding New York's offensive machine and protecting the ball.