There’s a famous old quote from Irish poet Brendan Behan that goes: “I never saw a situation a policeman couldn’t make worse”.
When it comes to the New York Knicks, to paraphrase the famous Irish wordsmith, I’ve never seen a situation that team owner James Dolan couldn’t make worse.
In the midst of his team’s toughest stretch of the season, at a time when the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games, at the pivotal point of what looked like being a long-awaited season of revival, this is the moment Dolan decides to involve himself in team affairs, undermine his president and coach and help destabilise the cohesion of his players.
Yes, there are other mitigating facts in the Knicks’ recent run of poor results. Injuries to Wilson Chandler and the team’s emotional heartbeat Rony Turiaf haven’t helped. Floor general Raymond Felton playing through the pain of a bum ankle has affected team cohesion.
And the seemingly never-ending Car-melodrama played out on a daily basis by the media has, if you believe the players, also had an effect.
But Dolan’s ability to insert himself into situations as a looming, dangerous, silent spectre should be even more troubling to Knicks fans.
First of all there’s Donnie Walsh’s extension or, more accurately, the speculation that the man who patiently restructured and rebuilt the team roster with characteristic professionalism and competence, may no longer be wanted come the end of the season.
The Knicks have until April 30 to exercise a team option on the final year of Walsh’s contract. So far, nothing has happened to secure his services. After the job Walsh has done restoring the Knicks’ credibility on and off the court, he should be getting offered an extension. Scratch that, he should be told the job is his for as long as he’s physically able to do it.
Instead, with the silent shadow of Dolan cast over the future of the franchise’s off-court cornerstone, Walsh finds his position under threat as stories abound that his future is squarely dependent on his ability to bring Carmelo Anthony to Madison Square Garden before the trade deadline on February 24.
No matter that that blowing up the roster to get Melo now would destroy the structure of the team. No matter that you could sign Melo as a free agent in the summer and give up nothing. No matter that, arguably, a top class center and a strong back-up point guard would serve the Knicks better than a scorer who plays no defence and whose need for the ball doesn’t fit with Mike D’Antoni’s offence.
For the record, it’s clear the Knicks should sign Melo if they can. The point is that Walsh should not be fearing for his job if he doesn’t sign the Nuggets’ superstar in the next 10 days. Under any other owner, Walsh’s work to date would have earned him more than enough trust, not to mention a contract extension.
When you are so dense that David Stern feels he needs to step in to tell you to extend Donnie Walsh, it’s probably a good idea to do it.
Of course, one of the reasons Donnie Walsh’s job security isn’t what it should be is Dolan’s inconceivable belief that, along with Red Auerbach and James Naismith, Isiah Thomas remains one of the greatest minds in the history of basketball.
Forget the desperate, team-crippling trades he made. Forget the endless wars with high-profile players. Forget the sexual harassment case and the years of embarrassment on and off the court. According to a report by Yahoo’s Mark Miller, the man who made the Knicks a laughing stock is still on Dolan’s radar to make a return to the team he all but destroyed.
While this particular story has been refuted in other circles, its existence once again shows how the rumours that surround Dolan’s decision-making only ever seem to bring disorder to the team.
Speaking of which, given the very obvious effect the Carmelo Anthony trade rumours had on the players of the New Jersey Nets, why did Dolan choose to muddy the Melo waters even further by inserting himself into the situation and putting his players in the eye of the media storm.
By-passing his front office personnel, Dolan chose to enter the Melo negotiations directly. According to Knicks writer Frank Isola, Dolan attempted to conduct his own negotiations for Anthony with Stan Kroenke who, because of his ownership of the St Louis Rams in the NFL, isn’t even the owenr of the Nuggets any more.
While it would be foolish to assume Kroenke has no influence over what the Nuggets do – he turned over control to his son, after all – what did Dolan possibly think he would achieve by getting involved? The only effect of his chat with Kroenke has been to leave his players fearing for their jobs.
Since the hapless Nets dropped out of the Melo sweepstakes, they’ve won seven of 13 games. The Knicks have gone 4-8 in the same period. Both Walsh and D’Antoni felt the need to address the “We want Melo” chants that chorused through MSG as the Knicks fell to the Clippers.
Worse, the proof that the trade speculation had provided some players with an excuse to lose was borne out when point guard Felton admitted the Melo rumours has affected some of the players.
Midas in reverse
At a time when the team is really struggling and the prospect of a first winning season since 2001 now seriously hangs in the balance, why would a team owner, a man who, like King Midas in reverse, turns everything he touches into shit, pick this critical moment to involve himself in proceedings?
The answer might be that, every so often, James Dolan feels the need to demonstrate his authority and doesn’t comprehend the ramifications of his actions. The answer could be he can’t bear to see credit for the Knicks revival going to men whose salaries he pays. The answer could be he is simply a clueless, deluded filthy rich businessman whose decisions repeatedly go unchallenged.
Whichever answer is true, one thing is certain. Nothing good happens when James Dolan gets involved in Knicks’ front office and on-court business.
The man is dangerous and the sooner he steps back into the shadows, the happier this Knicks fan will be.