Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Isiah Thomas Does It Again

Isiah Thomas, intent on breaking the all-time record for stupidity by an NBA general manager (currently a tie between Chris Wallace, Scott Layden and the whiz kid who put together the Trail Blazers from 2000 on), has just made a trade to acquire Steve Francis from the Orlando Magic. This gives them the perfect storm of underachieving NBA backcourts, with Francis, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford all being shoot-first point guards whose leadership skills, if they do exist, have never been detected by man or machine.

It’s gotten so bad that it’s starting to resemble the terrible movie Eddie with Whoopi Goldberg, with Francis and Marbury fighting over the role of Stacy Patton. For all I know, they actually speak of themselves in the third person like he did. A few years ago, the Portland Trail Blazers had gotten so predictable at making the worst possible pick that when Qyntel Woods, a junior college player too stupid to get into a 4-year college and with a track record of legal problems, began to slip down the draft in the first round you just knew that Portland was going to take him. I predicted it 5 picks earlier; it was a no-brainer (literally, on their part).

Guess what team Woods plays for now? Yep. The New York Knicks. Thomas has managed to put together a team that is totally uncoachable. A backcourt full of selfish and overpaid underachievers. A frontcourt full of fat and lazy underachievers who managed to play a bit less like cadavers for a few weeks last year, just long enough to entice Thomas to hand them a combined $80 million in contracts. Oh, and one of them could drop dead at any moment from a congenital heart condition that was so bad that his old team wouldn’t let him play for them at all.

Next year, the Knicks will have a staggering $130 million payroll. They’ve got young talent to build around in Channing Frye and David Lee, but they just traded another good young player, Trevor Ariza, to get Francis. It seems that Thomas’ goal is to make sure that no matter what 5 players are on the court for the Knicks, at least 3 of them are ballhogs with no concept whatsover of team play. And who has to coach them? Larry Brown. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. You got your latest dream job, Larry. Does that grass still look greener while your old team of eminently coachable team players is destroying the league?


  1. #1 Matthew
    February 22, 2006

    What I don’t get is why the ownership group continues to let him make these deals. I know that you think that being in New York that they can shoulder this kind of pay roll, but it’s not that simple. The NBA doesn’t just have a salary cap, they have a luxury tax too, where a team has to pay a certain percentage as they go over this “threshold” (which i think is only about 60 million, the Knicks over double that!). i don’t know exactly how it’s determined, but i do know that almost no owners want to touch it. Mark Cuban has worked to try and get under the threshold, Paul Allen did too after paying it a few years ago. And he’s one of the richest people in the world. I can’t imagine how much extra money the Knicks are now paying to be one of the worst teams in the league.

  2. #2 Jeff Hebert
    February 22, 2006

    I guess Thomas figures “Hey, I’m a prick and I did just fine in the NBA, I am sure if I get TWO people who are like me we’ll be TWICE as good!”

    I am having very happy times engaging in Schadenfreude on this whole Knick deal. Thomas and Brown are two prima donnas from the same pod, and Francis and Marbury are junior versions of the same complex. I hope they and their colossal egos enjoy their years in the cellar.

    I feel really bad for Knick fans throughout the country, because this team will suck really bad, for a really long time, even after the Four Munsters have moved on. Truly epic incompetence.

  3. #3 Ed Brayton
    February 22, 2006

    Jeff Hebert wrote:

    I guess Thomas figures “Hey, I’m a prick and I did just fine in the NBA, I am sure if I get TWO people who are like me we’ll be TWICE as good!”

    But Thomas wasn’t anything like Francis or Marbury as a player. As a player, Isiah is easily one of the 25 best players of all time, in my view. He was a consummate team player who really understood how to get his teammates involved, and he was a great leader on the floor for the Pistons (yes, he was a prick, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a player). That’s what makes it all the more baffling to watch him become the worst GM in history. It’s as though he learned nothing at all from his playing days. The late 80s Pistons were great because they played as a team and played great defense. He’s put together a team that couldn’t guard a parking meter and couldn’t spell the word “team” with a dictionary in front of them.

    His old backcourt mate, Joe Dumars, has obviously learned something that Thomas never has, that you don’t just put together a bunch of talented guys on the court and let them go. Everyone in the NBA is talented. You get guys who play hard every minute, who play defense with pride and who put the team ahead of the individual and you’ve got a chance to win championships. Thomas is just a disaster as a manager. I wouldn’t hire the man to run a car wash, much less one of the wealthiest franchises in sports.

  4. #4 Matthew
    February 22, 2006

    I just read on another website that luxury tax is done basically dollar-for-dollar for everthing over the threshold. Which is 61million. So that’s about 70 million dollars the Knicks will just hand over to the league next year. That’s more in taxes than the vast majority of teams pay in payroll. Only Indiana, LA Lakers, Dallas, and Philadelphia will pay more in payroll next year than New York will pay just in luxury tax. Wow.

  5. #5 Jeff Hebert
    February 22, 2006

    Ed said:

    He was a consummate team player who really understood how to get his teammates involved …

    You’ve made this argument before Ed, and I was thinking about this whole topic on the way home (I have a long commute, sue me!). I disagree with it completely. I think Isaiah was and is a “me-first” guy, who shone as a player in Detroit because the rest of the guys on his team knew their place. Furthermore, I believe that Joe Dumars and not Isaiah Thomas was both the leader and the heart and soul of that team.

    I’m going to flat out say it: Joe Dumars, and not Isaiah Thomas, was the reason that Detroit Pistons team won a ring.

    I remember those days, and I remember the guys saying in quieter interviews that Joe was the glue, Joe was the solid team player that kept everyone grounded, on and on. They all sang Isaiah’s praises when the lights were brightest because a) they were winning, b) he gave them the ball, and c) they knew he needed to feel like the top dog leader of the pack to be successful and if they didn’t kowtow to him, he’d sulk and backstab and ruin the whole thing.

    If you look at the careers those two men had after that time, the data bear it out. Dumars went on to be a powerful yet dignified and subtle leader who put together a team that not only won another championship but came damn close to winning another. His players, some of whom never fit in on other teams (Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace weren’t exactly on the All-Great-Guy Team before Joe hired them), were a perfect mix and they got along in Detroit when they hadn’t before. And when the coach left, they didn’t implode because Joe was there to be the same rock he always was, bringing in the right guy to keep things going.

    Meanwhile, as you’ve chronicled, Isaiah ruined franchise after franchise.

    So given their track records, the outlying data point in Isaiah’s career was the championship, not the numerous failures thereafter. You keep approaching this like “What happened to Isaiah, he was so great, why is he failing now?” The logical answer is, he was NEVER that great as a leader. He was a great talent, he was a great distributer, he was a great competitor, but he was never really the leader or heart of that winning team. That role was Joe Dumars’, and that’s been proven by Joe’s continued winning ways after the two of them split.

    That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

  6. #6 Seth Anderson
    February 23, 2006

    Peter Vecsey, on NBA-TV, made some comment tonight, paraphrased: the Knicks, with the luxury tax included, have a higher total payroll than the NY Yankees, yet with fewer players. Yikes. The Yankees at least win more games than they lose.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2006


    I think you’re oversimplifying how a team game works when you say that Detroit won championships because of Dumars and not Thomas. The truth is that they won championships because of both players. Take either one away and Detroit doesn’t win those championships, in fact probably doesn’t even get close. I’m a huge Joe Dumars fan, so nothing I say about Isiah as a player takes away from his greatness either as a player or as an executive. But for all his faults as an executive – and he’s a disaster of biblical proportions – let me tell you, as a guy who grew up watching him play for the Pistons, why I think Isiah Thomas, the player, is one of the greatest to ever play the game.

    The biggest reason: because he had what Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and all of the truly great players had – an unbelievable will to win. No one was more competitive, no one loved the pressure of the big game more, and no one could ever question the guy’s heart. There are so many examples I can give. The 84 playoffs against the Knicks, where he scored 16 points in 93 seconds to pull Detroit back into the game. The 88 finals against the Lakers, with the Pistons facing elimination on the road and Thomas having an ankle injury that was so bad that he was literally hopping down the court – and all he did was score 25 points in the first quarter to set an NBA finals record. He played 13 years in the NBA and was an all-star 12 times. He’s still the Pistons all time leader in points and assists.

    He led that team with pure will and heart. He set the tone of toughness that the rest of the team fed off. And in the biggest games, he played his best. Historically, I put him in the second tier of players. The first tier is pretty obvious to everyone – Jordan, Bird, Magic, Wilt, Oscar Robertson, Kareem, Jerry West, Bill Russell. I put Thomas in the group just behind those guys, easily one of the 25 greatest players to ever play the game. As much as he is a joke as an owner/president/general manager, you can’t take away his brilliance on the court. Nor does that brilliance take away from Joe Dumars in any way, who was a terrific player in his own right (not nearly as talented as Thomas, borderline all star as a player) but will certainly go down as one of the great executives in the history of the game.

  8. #8 oolong
    February 23, 2006

    Personally, I wish you would stop talking about Thomas. As a Knick fan, the pain is too great.

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