Can the team win a championship with James Dolan as owner?
Ever since the Cablevision tycoon took control of the team, he's pushed nearly all the wrong buttons. And when he pushes the right one (a rare occurrence), he doesn't have the patience or prudence to see it through.
On more than one occasion, his personal whims and pride have impeded the franchise's success. He has a track record that could almost be considered sabotage.
Hiring abysmal executives Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas, overspending on Allan Houston and Larry Brown, giving up too much in 'Melo trade, letting Jeremy Lin go out of spite—it's an extensive list.
The recent removal of general manager Glen Grunwald in favor of inexperienced executive Steve Mills is one of those moves that could set the team back once again.
After putting together a squad that won 54 games and advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, Grunwald was demoted to an advisory position a week prior to 2013-14 training camp.
One thing is for sure. You don't ever want to get into James Dolan's doghouse. Just ask Grunwald where it got him. #Knicks— Dishin' and Swishin' (@DishinNswishin1) October 9, 2013
Glen Grunwald did a lot with the little he had to work with. Knicks snapped a 13-year streak of not winning a playoff series...and he's out— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) September 26, 2013
Dolan's handling of Grunwald exemplified many of the traits that make the owner a substandard leader.
And unfortunately for Knicks fans, it's those characteristics that will likely prevent the Knicks from ever hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy during his tenure.
Undermining Executives, Not Empowering Them
Dolan has a long history of undermining the work of his general managers and front office, and his work with Grunwald was no different.
His most notable meddling during the Grunwald era was his refusal to re-sign Jeremy Lin in 2012, primarily because he reportedly felt betrayed by Lin restructuring his contract proposal.
So the reason Lin isn't wearing a Knicks jersey today is not because Grunwald didn't want him back or Dolan didn't have the resources to bring him back. It was Dolan's pride.
If Grunwald really wanted to keep Lin & Dolan wouldn't let him, shouldn't he just quit? What good is being GM w/o any decision-making power?— Jared Dubin (@JADubin5) July 18, 2012
That's no way to run a team.
Nearly every winning sports owner will tell you how important it is to empower members of your organization rather than undermine them.
Luckily, in the short term, things worked out for the Knicks. But even after a highly successful season, Dolan was quickly weakening Grunwald's standing with the club.
From what I was told hours ago, Dolan began giving Grunwald frozen vibes the moment the Knicks were evicted in round two.— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) September 27, 2013
With that context in mind, it's less surprising that Dolan demoted Grunwald before the 2013-14 campaign.
The quick trigger is linked to another unfortunate trait of Dolan's: impatience.
Lack of Patience and Long-term Fortitude
In two years, Glen Grunwald did a lot of good for Knicks, but Dolan wasn't patient enough to see what he would do next.
We should have expected something like this, because Dolan has never been steady enough to stick with the club's major personnel. His tenure has seen nine different head coaches, including seven in six years from 2001-2007.
Dolan literally couldn't wait to see whether any of his coaching hires blossom. His impatience also led to New York overcompensating in the 'Melo trade. And now, Dolan's restlessness has resulted in the removal of a first-rate general manager.
Dolan wasn't thrilled with the aging, veteran roster, and apparently he wanted to replace Grunwald with someone he's worked with before. But he's not really giving Grunwald a chance.
Rick Kaplan, agent of former Knick Marcus Camby, told ESPNNewYork.com that the timing and nature of Grunwald's demotion was hasty and ill-advised:
Glen's firing is absurd and the timing is cruel. Here is a guy that remarkably created a winning atmosphere in one of the most toxic NBA environments today. He did everything he was asked to do by his owner, and did it with a smile on his face.
Considering how well the former general manager assembled the 2012-13 and 2013-14 teams, Dolan should have exercised more patience and trust. If the owner was honest with himself, he would admit Grunwald has the ability to continue success and improve upon it infusing the roster with youth and enticing key pieces to join 'Melo in 2014.
Only Deals With Yes Men
Dolan likes to deal with people who tell him what he wants to hear and those who agree with him.
He's comfortable with Steve Mills, who worked for Dolan previously as CEO of Madison Square Garden. Mills may be a well-connected businessman who could attract free agents in 2014 and beyond, but he doesn't have the track record of basketball operations and roster construction success that Grunwald does.
It shows that Dolan is confident primarily in himself. As a result, Dolan and Mills—two men who are unqualified to carry out G.M. duties—are the ones running New York's beloved Knickerbockers.
New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica lamented Dolan's irrational confidence:
What [Mills' hiring] shows you is that Dolan thinks he is the real general manager of the Knicks... James L. Dolan: Whose Knicks have won one playoff series since he became the big boss of the place in the spring of 2001 and began surrounding himself with his small band of corporate yes men, with the notable exception of Mr. Donnie Walsh.
Until Dolan entrusts and empowers a competent leadership group to run the team on and off the court, the club will always be weakened from the top down.
Passing the Blame, Never Taking the Heat
The cherry on top of this not-so-sweet sundae is Dolan's tendency to deflect criticism and rarely take responsibility for his own mistakes.
A successful leader is one who is accountable for his own errors, and Dolan almost never does that.
In fact, he's seldom willing to represent his team to the media, as he's unwilling to take inquiries from reporters and explain his ownership methodology. For one stretch, he went nearly six years without fielding questions from Knicks beat writers.
Historic moment just now: Dolan answered a question from @NYPost_Berman. First time he's taken a question from a Knicks beat since 2007.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) September 25, 2013
But he was more than willing to fire general managers and coaches and give rehearsed statements as to why he was disappointed in them.
Dolan needs to understand the importance of getting out of the way and letting proven professionals run the organization. He should provide the resources and the trust, and allow everyone else to do the rest.
Sadly, it doesn't seem like he's going to change his ways anytime soon. Don't hold your breath for an orange and blue title.