It's Time for New York Knicks Fans to Forgive James Dolan

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It's Time for New York Knicks Fans to Forgive James Dolan
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

New York Knicks fans are beginning to forgive James Dolan after nearly a decade of ineptitude. A recent poll found 42 percent of respondents willing to give Dolan credit for the Knicks’ current state of affairs.

Winning sure heals old wounds. You couldn’t buy a Dolan supporter in this town not much longer than a few months ago. There were still questions then, about the Carmelo Anthony trade, letting Jeremy Lin go, opting for interim-coach Mike Woodson and more.

There were still bitter memories of Isiah Thomas and the threat of his return.

But now the Knicks are the best team in the Eastern Conference and they’re challenging the Oklahoma City Thunder for overall NBA-record supremacy.

Anthony is a valid MVP candidate. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd have made Linsanity seem like a seat-filling gimmick. Woodson has arrived and Thomas has kept his distance.

James Dolan has more than a little to do with it. After doing just about everything wrong or being too hands-off at the worst times for years, the Knicks owner has done a complete 180 on both counts over the past four seasons.

New York fans are a fair and forgiving bunch. They have short memories, which work both for and against their teams, players and ownership groups.

It’s very much, “What have you done for me lately?”

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If the answer to that question is “not much,” duck for cover. Every move you make and every historical error will be put under the microscope. This is New York City after all.

But if the answer is winning, all is forgiven. Maybe not forgotten—with a dash of understandable paranoia (keep an eye on this guy)—but forgiven.

So what has James Loraine Dolan done (or thankfully not done) for Knicks fans lately to deserve a little absolution, higher ticket prices notwithstanding?

Dolan’s arc of atonement began on April 2, 2008 with the hiring of Donnie Walsh as President of Basketball Operations (PBO).

Before that, the Knicks were mired in a seven-year slump orchestrated by bad, back-to-back Dolan appointments: Scott Layden as GM in 1999 and Isiah Thomas as PBO in 2003.

Between Layden and Thomas, the Knicks accumulated bad trades, worse draft picks and the worst contracts. Outside the front-office hirings, Dolan stood idly by like a silent partner.

Ironically, it would be Dolan’s hands-off policy that would help bring the Knicks back to prominence.

Nick Laham/Getty Images
"What'd I do?" Step 1: Dump Isiah

But first, he acted, finally canning loyalist Thomas in 2008. This was no small feat. To this day, Dolan and Thomas enjoy an inexplicably strong bond. The New York Post quoted Dolan as recently as this September saying.

I will continue to solicit [Isiah’s] views. He will always have strong ties to me and the team.

Scary.

But you have to give Dolan some credit for “going out of his way” to put an end to the Isiah era.

Enter Donnie Walsh who exorcised five years of Thomas’ demons. Walsh was given free reign by Dolan to uproot the whole roster—and that Walsh did, erasing every Knick or contract from the Layden-Thomas days, including Coach Thomas himself.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Step 2: Bring In Donnie Walsh

Dolan gave Walsh a blank check, no questions asked, to rebuild the roster, beginning with the Amar’e Stoudemire signing.

When Walsh balked at the Anthony trade, though, Dolan forced the issue. According to the New York Times, “Dolan pushed through the Anthony trade over Walsh’s objections.”

This conflict, and a surprising impatience on the part of Dolan, may have led to Walsh’s departure at the end of the 2010-11 season.

The Knicks were better under Walsh, but apparently not enough for an oddly-unsatisfied and newly-involved James Dolan. What about defense? How about some bench depth?

Dolan promoted Glen Grunwald to address the Knicks’ continued failings. Walsh began the Knicks' ascent from hell, but Grunwald has been the key to taking the team to the heavens.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Step 3: Glen Grunwald and Mike Woodson

Again, Dolan stepped back and let his president work: Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd, Ronnie Brewer, Steve Novak, J.R. Smith and Rasheed Wallace were all brought in by Grunwald.

And Mike Woodson, too. The Knicks best coach since Jeff Van Gundy is vying for Coach of the Year and has the team playing better than anyone expected.

Grunwald brought Woodson in as a defensive coordinator of sorts to fill that huge blank chapter in Mike D’Antoni’s playbook.

When D’Antoni quit near the end of 2010-11, Woodson temporarily took over and delivered an 18-6 record down the stretch.

A very grounded James Dolan didn’t bother reaching out to an available Phil Jackson at the end of the season. The loyal owner stuck with his man, who had proved himself as capable, and delivered to Woodson, and Knicks fans, a multiyear extension.

Who doesn’t love that move now?

And in a final twist, it would be Dolan’s perhaps noblest quality—the importance he places on loyalty and friendship—that would force the owner’s bravest (and at the time considered foolhardy by many) move.

Dolan let Jeremy Lin walk. As reported in the New York Daily News,

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Step 4: Felton (and Kidd) Over Lin

Dolan, according to sources, felt betrayed. After all, the Knicks had signed Lin in December after the second-year point guard out of Harvard had been cut by both Golden State and Houston.

In the end, this couldn’t have worked out better for the Knicks. They replaced the flash of Jeremy Lin—who has returned to Earth in Houston—with a key piece necessary to make anything with either Stoudemire or Anthony work: a true (or two) pass-first point guard with veteran experience.

The results speak for themselves, and James Dolan is responsible on several fronts for finally giving the fans what they want: a championship-contending team.

All is forgiven. Now let’s win one.

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