Words from a battered Knicks fan, but stay tuned for facts over opinions, and more importantly no recycled anecdotes that have only contributed to our demise and made it worse each and every year. So let’s get right to it, YES THE ISIAH YEARS WERE BAD, and of course when you look back at the Win/Loss records that sentiment is indisputable. But unlike you simpletons who want to blame 15 years of misery on one person, the reality is that the Knicks problems go far beyond the indiscretions of just one man, yet instead are just as likely attributed to the general reprieve that was given to the next GM who in most people’s eyes could do no wrong.
With that in mind this article’s purpose is to meticulously break down every move Isiah made, and to give each move a corresponding grade to see how it objectively compares to his successors that followed. While most of you probably already have your minds made up as to who and what destroyed the NY Knicks, a lot of those talking points can be eradicated with the facts, and if you have an open mind you may finish this article with a different outlook on how it all played out.
--- The Isiah Era ---
In 2003 when he inherited the team as President after the dismissal of Scott Layden, the Knicks were already 10-18 when Isiah fired Don Cheney and hired Lenny Wilkins, followed by a blockbuster trade that swapped Charlie Ward, Antonio McDyess, 3 players not worth mentioning, and 2 future 1st rd draft picks for Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway. While these acquisitions were highly publicized and years later would be looked at as a colossal mistake, let’s remind ourselves how much the city was buzzing when Isiah made this move, as Marbury was a NY native and a household name who had most recently been a leading scorer for the USA in the Olympics (mind you it was the only year they didn’t win the Gold - pretty embarrasing no doubt).
Nonetheless Marbury could ball… no denying this... and the move followed a season where the best players were Allan Houston with battered knees, Latrell Sprewell with a broken hand, an older Kurt Thomas and Charlie Ward with a supporting cast of Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson, Othella Harrington, and Michael Doleac; all while Antonio McDyess missed the entire season after being traded for Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, and Nene. Note this was not Isiah’s move, this was Layden, and although McDyess was a damn good player he had already missed 72 games the season prior with a ruptured Patellar tendon, thus after Houston making him the first of many players the Knicks would later sign with damaged knees (Stoudemire under Donnie Walsh, and Rose under Phil Jackson); the former who had missed 140 games in 8 seasons before the Knicks signed him to 100 mil, and the latter who has yet to play for the Knicks yet has missed an astounding 257 games in that same 8 year sample size for the Bulls - but more on that later….
Either way it’s difficult to fault Isiah for having seen the upside in Marbury, especially when he was correct in assuming Ward’s better days were behind him (he retired the following year after an injury laden season with the Rockets - a legendary Knickerbocker all the same). It is true however that McDyess was able to re-find his game years later with the Pistons and Spurs, and although he wasn’t an All Star he was an efficient PF for the better part of the next decade. Marbury also did his numbers however, turning the Knicks around that season to a respectable 7 seed in the playoffs, despite the fact that they got swept and bullied by crosstown rivals Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin with the Nets. Considering the fact Isiah knew Ward was finished and was correct at the time in seeing the upside of Marbury, he objectively deserves nothing less than a B- for that move, which would be higher if it hadn't been for their inability to make it work.
With that being said the following 04/05 season was nothing short of peculiar, as for Isiah’s first draft pick as President and GM he selected Trevor Ariza with the 43rd overall pick, which was incredible value for the 2nd rd to say the least. Isiah didn’t have a 1st rd pick that season due to the Marbury deal, and for the record Utah on behalf of Phoenix selected Kirk Snyder at 16 - nobody the Knicks missed out on. Ariza was more than solid for the Knicks and has continued to play pivotal roles for teams throughout his now 10+ year career, so let’s give Isiah credit where it’s due considering that he got 1st rd talent in spite of trading away his 1st rd pick. Furthermore before the season began Isiah was able to acquire Jamal Crawford and Jerome ‘Junkyard Dog’ Williams for a washed Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, and two other expendables, therefore considering Crawford’s subsequent success let’s give Isiah a solid A for this particular offseason as the moves at the time (and still to this day) made a lot of basketball sense.
The season however was dreadful as after starting the season 17-22 Lenny Wilkins resigned as head coach, who was succeeded by Herb Williams who was only able to manage a 33-49 record and the 12th seed in the conference. What’s long forgotten however is that Marbury was actually very reliable that season, playing in all 82 games and leading the team in points, assists, and steals, while Kurt Thomas led the team in rebounds and blocks. Nevertheless the team had no cohesion at all, and whether that’s in regards to a mid-season coaching change is up to debate, but either way Crawford and Tim Thomas (a mid season acquisition by Isiah for Keith Van Horn) were the only members of the supporting cast that played well that season - while Allan Houston and Penny Hardaway stayed riddled with injuries as Ariza and Michael Sweetney (Layden’s former lottery pick) struggled to make the immediate impact needed to win games. It would be negligent not to mention that Isiah did sign Vin Baker during the previous 03/04 season, and he was completely useless as he failed to contribute to the team at all; yet to Isiah’s credit he wasn’t given a Stoudemire contract, yet instead only made 3.5 mil and after the 04/05 season the Knicks simply washed their hands with him.
Coming off an abysmal year when the 05 offseason came around Isiah once again flexed his muscles in the draft, selecting Channing Frye at #8 (with Andrew Bynum and Danny Granger the only notable names picked behind him), Nate Robinson at #21 (as a packaged deal with Quentin Richardson in a trade with Phoenix for Kurt Thomas and an expendable), and David Lee at #30 (with Monta Ellis the only real player of any value picked afterwards). All three of these players were productive for every one of their seasons with the Knicks and beyond, which will be outlined in more detail later in the article, yet once again in the spirit of evaluating Isiah objectively he absolutely did remarkably well in this draft - and now two seasons in a row had illustrated that the man clearly had an eye for talent.
There were definitely blemishes in this offseason however, most notably the acquisitions of Eddy Curry and Jerome James, both of whom they overpaid and gave up too much for. Curry was already known to have an irregular heart condition and refused to take a DNA test for the Bulls, yet Isiah traded 3 expendables, an 06 1st rd pick (would become Lamarcus Aldridge), an 07 1st rd pick (would become Joakim Noah), and 2 2nd rd draft picks for Curry plus Antonio Davis and an 07 1st rd pick in return (which would subsequently become Wilson Chandler). While Curry played decent minutes for the Knicks over a span of three years, the rise of Aldridge and Noah has forever tainted that trade as one of Isiah’s worst moves as General Manager. Yet far more perplexing than the Curry trade was the signing of James, who Isiah decided to sign to a 5 year 30 mil contract off the strength of two good playoff series, in which he put forth numbers that far exceeded his regular season output. Thus true to his conventional form he arrived to camp out of shape after his big pay day, and only averaged 3.1 points, 2 rebounds, and 9 minutes per game while being inactive for 37 others. As unlikely as it may seem the truth is James actually regressed the following year, with 1.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 6.7 minutes per game while only playing half the season. For good measure however James only made 2 appearances in each of the following two seasons, making him by far the most unproductive Knickerbocker to ever put on the uniform and represent the city.
That season was also marked by interesting mid-season moves that proved that Isiah was willing to wheel and deal at any cost, illustrated by a trade one day before the deadline that sent Ariza (and the expiring contract of Penny) to the Magic for the former All Star Steve Francis. He also earlier had traded Antonio Davis for Jalen Rose and an 06 1st rd pick (getting back one of the picks he lost in the Curry deal, albeit only translating to Renaldo Balkman outside the lottery), and had signed and waived Matt Barnes which in hindsight was certainly questionable considering how valuable Barnes has been throughout his career. With that in mind Isiah’s performance had many highs and many lows in the 06 season, thus he’s not easy to grade yet when you consider the upside of all the major players involved, to give him anything less than a B- would be disingenuous - especially when you consider who he hired as his Head Coach.
Isiah’s greatest priority that season likely had to do with leadership at the coaching position, highlighted by signing another Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown to a 5 year 60 mil contract, making him the highest paid coach in basketball history. Yet once again when it was time to play the team had absolutely zero chemistry whatsoever, illuminated by an ongoing feud between Marbury and Brown, which led to a disastrous 23-59 record which at the time was tied as the worst Knicks season of all time - rather inconspicuously with the 85-86 season when Patrick Ewing was the Rookie of the Year. [Let the record show that the Knicks only improved by one game in the 86-87 season ((24-58)), and both of those teams were coached by the legend Hubie Brown - emphasizing how the Knicks had bad teams with good personnel long before Isiah.] In any event it was another abysmal season, where blame should have been casted upon everybody in the organization, yet like a good GM is supposed to Isiah continued to push ahead and make enticing moves that were never short of potential.
Without a doubt 2006 was the worst draft on Isiah’s resume, using the 1st rd pick he got back for the Antonio Davis trade on Balkman at #20, while bypassing Rajon Rondo and Kyle Lowry who got picked at #21 and #24 behind him. It goes without saying how poorly this turned out for the Knicks, as neither Balkman or the 2nd rd pick Mardy Collins at #29 ever made a real impact in the league, while the players they passed up on (including Paul Millsap at #47) are still making All Star appearances to this day. Furthermore the only legitimate Free Agent acquisition that season was Jared Jeffries to a 5 year 30 million deal, which no matter how often the Knicks tried to convince us was a player with great intangibles, he never once lived up to his reputation or was worth that amount of money.
This was also the first season where Isiah decided to coach the team himself, after two Hall of Fame coaches Wilkins and Brown failed to generate any chemistry with the players, most notably Marbury who was the most important piece to the puzzle. At first it all seemed to mesh on a personal level, as Marbury and Thomas became very close and were said to be thick as thieves, for better or for worse. As far as basketball is concerned their relationship failed to make much of a difference however, as despite a 10 win improvement they ended the season at 33-49, which put them once again at the bottom of the conference and far out of playoff contention. Overall in his first season as GM and Head Coach, Isiah deserved no better than a C -, once again considering the poor record and the talent that he passed up on in the previous draft.
Then the fireworks really began, as the 07 offseason was the first time Isiah (and Marbury’s) character was called into question and for good reason, as the Knicks on behalf of Isiah were sued for sexual harassment by a former female executive - a case that played out in a highly publicized trial in which the Knicks were found liable and ordered to pay over 11 million dollars in damages. In that same trial it was revealed that a married Marbury had sex with a Knicks intern, who then went ahead and had sex with Marbury’s cousin, and then subsequently became a well paid employee who even got a promotion in the weeks ahead of the trial. It was all an incredibly damning moment for the Knicks organization, and opened the door for legitimate doubt that Isiah had any idea on how to run the team.
Yet to keep critics at bay and to shift the conversation back to basketball, Isiah made another major move before the season began by trading Francis and Frye for Dan Dickau, Fred Jones, and most notably Zach Randolph - the latter who was a budding superstar for the Trailblazers and seemed like the perfect co-pilot for Curry on the block. Isiah also drafted Wilson Chandler at #23 with the pick that came with Curry a year before, and with those new faces added to the core of Marbury, Crawford, David Lee, etc., the Knicks were once again a contender on paper to make a splash in the Eastern Conference.
Like years prior the season didn’t start well however, as they got off to a 2-9 start which started the infamous “Fire Isiah” chants, highlighted by a 45 point loss at home to the Celtics and a rumored altercation between Isiah and Marbury on the team plane 30,000 feet into the air. That same year Marbury elected to have season ending knee surgery in February, a move that the Knicks believed was unnecessary, and what officially divided Isiah and his golden child marking the end of an era. In fact it was only 2 months later when Dolan removed Isiah as President and hired Donnie Walsh to be the GM of the future, a move that was highly celebrated amongst fans and media alike. As the season played out Crawford led the team in points and assists, Randolph averaged 17 & 10, Lee averaged close to 10 & 10, and the Knicks once again tied their previous worst with a 23-59 record - all with the hope that Donnie was everything Isiah wasn’t - and would soon be the visionary who would take the Knicks out of the darkness and into the light. Still Isiah deserves credit for the Randolph deal, where his overall grade of D is only in respect to how much of a distraction he became, and his general inability to provide the team with any real leadership.
---- The Donnie Walsh Celebration Tour ---
Although it’s rarely if ever been told in the media this way before, for many reasons the 08/09 season is still what defines the Knicks to this day, as here we are 8 YEARS LATER still trying to compensate for the moves that were made. The first move Donnie made was to fire Isiah - good move - as on behalf of all his indiscretions and overall inefficiency he simply needed to be removed as the leader of the team. Isiah finished his career as Head Coach of the Knicks with a .341 winning percentage, which at the time was the 5th lowest in the franchise's history (although now it’s actually 7th which of course only indicates what happened behind him was actually worse). The man hired to improve the team was none other than Mike D’antoni - questionable move - although he had won 50+ games in 4 consecutive seasons with Phoenix and had reached the Western Conference finals twice during that run. Therefore with a new GM and a new Head Coach the only questions that remained regarded the roster, as Walsh and D’antoni were left with two choices - either to A) Keep Isiah’s players and try to build off their unlimited potential, or B) Gut the team entirely and start from scratch - combined with a pipe dream that Lebron would be eager to come play in New York two years later…
Wow the Knicks were wrong, yet to their credit everybody was wrong, as nobody assumed at the time that Lebron would start a trend where superstars teamed up with other superstars to increase their likelihood of winning (Kevin Durant should be ashamed of himself might I add, but that’s another article). Yet unlike every other team that was surprised by this move, the Knicks gave up EVERYTHING for Lebron, an entire year before anyone else did, and were completely void of any talent by the time King James took his talents to South Beach. [Quick moment of perspective - while Donnie shouldn’t necessarily be blamed for assuming Lebron would want to win a championship off his own merits (like all the great players before him) - he still was completely wrong in foreseeing how it would play out - and ultimately put all his chips on the table and got nothing in return - thus it’s only right he be held out accountable for coming up empty considering that's the nature of the business]. One other point of order, why Donnie felt like they had to make this move so early in the process is beyond me, as when it was time for Lebron to make his decision the Knicks were just as bad as they were before, yet this time they had no talent on the roster at all (not very enticing for prospective free agents of any caliber), which say what you want was NEVER EVER the case under Isiah - who ironically put out a team Lebron just might have considered.
Of course we’ll never know what might have happened, as after a competitive start to the season in which Isiah’s players under D’antoni started 6-3 with impressive wins over Utah and Miami, Donnie made wholesale changes that sent the team’s brightest stars packing to be replaced by journeymen and a long list of 10 day contracts. On the same fateful day that would turn out to be a dark day in hell for the Knicks and a day that they undeniably regret, Donnie traded Mardy Collins and Zach Randolph to the Clippers for Cuttino Mobley (who had a heart condition similar to Curry and ultimately never played a game for NY) and Tim Thomas (the same player who they had years prior and already knew was limited), along with trading Jamal Crawford to the Warriors straight up for Al Harrington… Yes… Donnie Walsh gave up Crawford and Randolph for essentially nothing…. FURTHERMORE… let’s look at it a different way…. DONNIE WALSH HIRED MIKE D’ANTONI AND HIS ‘7 SECOND OR LESS’ SYSTEM AND TRADED JAMAL CRAWFORD IN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF THE SEASON…. If you know basketball you know that doesn’t make any sense, and to date it’s one of the worst moves a GM has made in recent memory.
Yet it was all about LeBron, and for that reason everybody from the fans to the media to the ownership was more than willing to throw away 2 seasons to make room for the King. Yet let the record show I was never one of those fans, perhaps knowing that LeBron to NY was never a guarantee, all the while believing it was far more realistic to build off what we already had. As far as the Isiah years there was never any doubt what the problem was, LEADERSHIP, therefore I always believed that a new Coach and a new Point Guard could have had a profound effect on the untapped potential found in Crawford, Randolph, and all the rest of them. Yet I’ll never forget what my ESPN radio sounded like on November 21, 2008, as while I delivered chinese food in the tri state area I vividly remember hearing the media and the fans rejoice as we got rid of our best players for nothing, and it’s a moment as a Knicks fan I’m ashamed of to this day.
Instead the 08/09 Knicks once again finished last in their division and out of playoff contention with a 32-50 record, yet this time the fans were content with ineptitude, considering that “LeBron was coming” and “at least it wasn’t Isiah (or his players for that matter).” Instead Donnie waived Marbury in February - good move that needed to happen - and had earlier drafted Danilo Gallinari with the #6 pick in the draft - a questionable move considering Brooke & Robin Lopez, Deandre Jordan, Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert, Mario Chalmers, and Goran Dragic were all picked behind him and arguably all had better careers. D’antoni was also quoted with saying his Italian bredren in Gallinari was the best pure shooter he’s ever seen, which is an absolutely ludicrous statement that leads his credibility to be questioned altogether. Let’s give Walsh a C+ for the draft and a D- for letting Crawford and Randolph go for nothing, grades that are more than fair when you look at the big picture.
To the surprise of nobody the Knicks not only didn’t improve in the 09/10 season, but they actually got worse, with a 29-53 overall record that was right on par with Isiah’s W/L records, yet of course now Donnie and company were working with relative immunity (remember, LeBron is coming…). During the season Nate Robinson (one of the only talented players on the roster) was benched for 14 straight games for what was deemed to be ‘insubordination’ (note Robinson has always been known to be a fierce competitor who has never remotely been in trouble with the law - a vast deviation from a lot of athletes with a seemingly better ‘reputation’). Yet when Robinson finally was let out of detention he scored 41 points off the bench and beat the Hawks by himself, only a month later to be dealt to the Celtics who ironically ran LeBron out of Cleveland that year and went on to lose in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
That years draft was also very forgettable as Walsh selected Jordan Hill at #8, deciding to pass on Demar Derozen, Brandon Jennings, Darren Collison, and Jeff Teague behind him - followed by the acquisition of Toney Douglas at #29 who was selected before Patrick Beverley and Patty Mills came off the board. However perhaps to compensate for these poor decisions, that same year Donnie decided to trade his 1st rd lottery pick in Hill for a broken Tracy Mcgrady, and again the Knicks only got worse. Let’s give Walsh another C- for these moves (Jordan Hill?), as once again he failed to get anything good out of free agency or the draft.
Then came The Decision, and is it really that big of a shock that LeBron wanted nothing to do with us? Either way the Knicks had NOTHING BUT MONEY to offer to free agents that summer, and pardon me if I’m not so thrilled with what they did with it. After looking MORE FOOLISH THAN ANYONE, (including Cleveland) when LeBron went to Miami, Walsh went into full damage control and signed ANYBODY with a name, deciding to over pay Amare Stoudemire with a 5 year 100 million dollar max contract, in spite of the fact he had major surgeries done on his knee and cornea beforehand. Nonetheless after a relatively decent start in which they were actually above .500 at the all star break for the first time since 2000, Walsh decided to gut the team AGAIN, trading Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Gallinari, a 1st rd pick, 2 2nd rd picks, and more damaged goods for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman (back again), and a few others not worth mentioning.
With Stat & Melo the Knicks finished 42-40 (the previous ensemble seemed on pace to do even better) and was swept in the 1st rd of the playoffs by the Celtics while offering very little resistance. Essentially after a very impressive Game 1, Amare decided to slap the backboard in the layup line before Game 2 and tweaked his own back, which left Melo with a very non-competitive Knicks team the rest of the way. Those Celtics laughed at us, as did every team around the league who were hardly impressed by our newfound ‘relevance.’ Let the record show the Knicks also resigned Jared Jeffries that year, a blemish on both Isiah and Donnie’s record. Therefore I don’t see how Donnie deserves anything better than a B- for his performance as GM that year, as on top of failing to land Lebron he also paid Amare way too much and coupled him with another max player who operated the same floor space; an obvious fact that was clear to everyone but the Knicks. Yet here’s where Donnie apologists need to be consistent, as they always love to blame Dolan for Donnie’s mistakes while never offering that reprieve for Isiah. So unless you work for the Knicks front office and are privy to confidential information that the rest of us aren’t, spare me on your conspiracy theories as these were moves under Donnie’s watch and that’s all there is to it.
----- The Glen Grunwald Years ----
After Stat & Melo got annihilated in the playoffs Donnie decided to resign, perhaps in fact because he didn’t agree with the Melo trade after all, yet that’s only a further indictment on him not being able to persuade his owner let alone a high profile free agent like Lebron. He also perhaps knew this team wasn’t going ANYWHERE, and decided to get out before it was too late, creating an opportunity for Glen Grunwald to try to find chemistry where there was none. Yet to Grunwald’s credit he actually did assemble a roster that for a moment fooled everyone, as with the addition of Tyson Chandler at 4 years and 56 mil, JR Smith at 3 years and 18 mil, and a flash of Linsanity for the league minimum, the Knicks were relatively competitive in a lockout shortened season which also produced a new Head Coach in Mike Woodson; that is after D’Antoni resigned as soon as Melo returned from injury and Jeremy Lin’s magic had run out.
It should be noted in fact that under D’Antoni (Walsh’s hire) the team was 18-24 that year (he resigned with an overall 121/167 W/L record at .420 %), and under Woodson (Grunwald’s hire) the team finished that season 18-6 which was good enough for 7th in the conference. During the playoffs that year the Knicks faced the eventual champions in Lebron James and Dwayne Wade in the 1st rd, ultimately losing in 5 with Game 4 being their first playoff win since 2001, snapping an embarrasing 13 game losing streak. The Garden also dropped confetti on the Knicks after they won that game (as if they had won the championship, let alone the series) yet as disgraceful as that was that was simply Dolan and no one else. Furthermore Amare (Donnie’s acquisition) had once again sabotaged himself by punching a fire extinguisher after Game 2; an exclamation point on how grossly undependable he was throughout his Knicks career. Grunwald however deserves a solid B+ for the Knicks output that year, for more than anything finding the right Head Coach in Woodson, yet also for the addition of Chandler and Smith who provided security behind Stat & Melo.
Now this was the year the Knicks even had me fooled, as along with signing Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland, Marcus Camby, and Pablo Prigioni, they also traded Jeffries to get back Raymond Felton, and together with Melo, Stat, Tyson, and JR, for the first time in over a decade the Knicks actually looked legit. Woodson led the team to a 54-28 record which was good enough for 2nd in the conference and their first division title in 19 seasons.
Unfortunately when it became playoff time the Knicks went from contenders to pretenders, as they barely got past the injury plagued Celtics and got manhandled by the Pacers in the conference semis. While that decisive Game 6 loss was devastating to say the least, it also exposed the Knicks for who they really were, as when the jump shots stopped falling and it was time to play old school Pat Riley basketball - the Knicks got bullied right out the gym. Melo & JR were easily outclassed by Paul George and Lance Stephenson (the latter who Donnie inexplicably passed up in the 2010 draft for Andy Rautins and Landry Fields), and Tyson got flat out obliterated by Roy Hibbert, who would subsequently go on to never play at such a high level ever again.
Yet while Hibbert’s block on Melo at the rim was the defining moment of that series, in the grand scheme of things the image of Donnie watching from the stands was far more significant. After walking away from the Knicks, Donnie decided to return to the Pacers after Larry Bird had to temporarily step down as GM due to health complications. Thus it was rather ironic when the Pacers and the Knicks met in the playoffs that same year, considering Donnie was representing a team that to a man Bird was 100% responsible for, all the while facing a team that was the majority of his own design. Therefore one could only speculate what was really going through his head during that series, which saw his max contracts completely out performed in every single way, while Bird’s players won the series with much less of a payroll. [Bird returned as GM the following year, and Walsh stayed on as a consultant]. Regardless Grunwald deserves an A- for his team’s production this year, as for the first time in a long time the Knicks gave the fans something to really believe in.
----- The Steve Mills Phase ----
That success was short lived however, partially thanks to Dolan inexplicably firing Grunwald after his 90-58 record which was light years better than the three GM’s before him, and for reasons that have never been explained to this day. Granted his Andrea Bargnani trade for 3 expendables, a 1st rd pick, and 2 2nd rd picks was atrocious considering Bargnani had proven to be injury prone beforehand, and true to form missed 40 and 53 games consecutively in each one of his seasons in NY. He also overpaid for him, yet when you look at his predecessors clearly that puts him in good company. Top dollar for players past their prime… that’s pretty much the game plan in NY… and disregarding conventional wisdom that honestly has nothing to do with Isiah. Nonetheless Steve Mills was given the throne for less than a season, and was 27-40 before Phil Jackson was hired to control all basketball operations… other than presiding as Head Coach… where he has 11 rings.
---- The Phil Jackson Experiment ----
However it was true the Knicks already had a coach, a good one in Mike Woodson, yet after one bad season where they finished one seed out of the playoffs, Jackson fired Woodson and hired Derek Fisher to be his replacement - a solid point guard who had never coached a day in his life. [Woodson ended his tenure with the Knicks with a 109-79 record at .580% - far better than any other coach in recent memory]. Phil’s next move was to trade Felton and Chandler for Jose Calderon, Shane Larkin, Samuel Dalembert, and Wayne Ellington… and it didn’t work out. Calderon was simply not what he used to be (notice a trend) and Stoudemire, Carmelo, and Bargnani were all dealing with chronic injuries they couldn’t overcome. The Knicks were an absolutely abominable 5-32 before they decided to make a move, and let’s be clear that it is ABSOLUTELY DISGRACEFUL for any team with Carmelo to have a record that bad, even if you want to blame it on the supporting cast - the same players who just won a championship with Lebron James.
Yet no matter the logic in early January, Phil traded JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavs for Louis Amundson, Lance Thomas, an expendable, and a 2nd rd pick, and proceeded to tank the rest of the way to the worst season in franchise history - a 17-65 record that is once again far worse than anything ever attached to Isiah. Phil’s 1st rd draft pick that year of Cleanthony Early was also an embarrassment, as well as the overall game plan that seemed to only be focused on long term improvement - while Stat & Melo were only getting older and the value of their contracts were dwindling away year after year. [Knicks fans only concerned with Isiah - you still happy with those Donnie contracts??? - I doubt it - but here we are]. Phil deserves no better than a D for his first year as President and GM, as no matter the personnel the Knicks had no excuse to be that awful, and if it was Isiah there would have been a boycott let alone a call for accountability.
Then came the 2015 draft, and for the moment it seems like Phil may have struck gold with his #4 pick of Kristaps Porzingis. Although time will tell if he’s really the player we hope him to be, it was clear he was very effective in the 1st half of the season, scoring at will as a 7 footer who can stretch the floor. The 2nd rd selection (which involved trading Tim Hardaway Jr. - a flashy scorer if nothing else - for Jerian Grant) doesn’t look very good however, and the acquisitions of Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, and Robin Lopez to multi year contracts wasn't the answer as well - considering that even with Porzingis and Melo the Knicks went a dreadful 32-50 and once again failed to make the playoffs by a mile. Sidetone: Let us please keep in mind the best Free Agents this year refused to even interview with the Knicks and that’s A BIG PROBLEM, and are we really going to blame Isiah for that when he hadn’t been the GM in over 8 years? .... not if you’re being even remotely objective...
There was even a coaching change this season, with Derrick Fisher being fired after starting the season 23-31, giving him an overall record of 40-96 which is a .294 win %, the 2nd worst in franchise history. Fisher’s successor was interim coach Kurt Rambis, who coached the rest of the way and also failed to provide any spark. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler was putting up numbers in Phoenix and Ray Felton was playing big time minutes in the playoffs for Dallas, thus making it clear that Phil had clearly made a mistake by trading them for Calderon.
Considering that mishap, the team’s overall inefficiency, and one bright spot in Porzingis, Phil deserves a B- for his second year on the throne - and that’s honestly generous and mostly in thanks to the 7 footer. [He also finally reached a buyout with Amare; Donnie’s greatest mistake that for the money burned the Knicks far worse than Isiah ever had.]
2016 - Present
And here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for… year 3 of the Phil Jackson experiment… finally the year we get to see his vision for all it’s worth. And to his credit he’s made some moves, most notably acquiring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee. Yet as it’s already been well documented, D Rose is the logo for great ball players who always get hurt, in fact you couldn’t find another ball player that fits that prototype more than him. Yet even still he’s great when he’s healthy and the Knicks got him at relatively low risk - DESPITE the fact the clock is STILL TICKING on Carmelo. That is in fact the risk, if anything good is going to happen in the Melo era it has to happen now… not a few years from now but RIGHT NOW… and we’ll find out soon enough if it works. Add Noah, Jennings, and Lee to the mix and the Knicks have a more than formidable starting 5, despite the fact that Noah is coming off major shoulder surgery and Lee is not exactly D Wade but he can definitely still play - and Jennings for that matter is great insurance behind Rose so that’s a move that’s difficult not to love. Overall Phil put together an aging team who is desperate for Porzingis to grow up quickly, but as long as they stay healthy they can potentially compete in the East, and for that reason Phil deserves a B for the potential of one (maybe two at most) competitive seasons ahead.
So 8 years after Isiah we’ve rebuilt the team 3 different times, won one single 1st round playoff series, and signed multiple max contracts throughout the process for minimal to nonexistent results. But let’s be clear… DONNIE WALSH NEVER GOT ONE OUNCE OF CRITICISM FROM ANYBODY FOR OVERPAYING AND ALWAYS GETTING THE WORSE DEALS POSSIBLE… he failed miserably (again more miserably than most) in trying to persuade Lebron, and then proceeded to acquire the best available regardless of their style of play and no matter the price. AMARE STOUDEMIRE WAS NOT WORTH 100 MIL AFTER TWO MAJOR SURGERIES along with all his other knee and ankle problems, yet disregarding that obvious detail Donnie somehow managed to pay the MAXIMUM amount that he possibly could, therefore as Knicks fans shouldn’t we all be asking the same question... where was the negotiation skills? You couldn’t get a better deal than that? Well what great attributes of Donnie are to thank for such a miserable contract that any stiff with Dolan’s money could have orchestrated? That deal single handedly set the Knicks back 5 years and to be honest right now the Carmelo deal is in question as well.
No doubt Carmelo was blockbuster from the very beginning, and if you were going to land a player of his stature then you would have to give up a lot, especially with pressure from Dolan to make the deal happen by any means possible. Yet even still.... *in my best Stephen A Smith voice*... you had to give up all those players and a 1st rd draft pick? Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov? Let the record show both Chandler and Gallo have become very reliable and Felton balled out in the playoffs this year and Mozgov once put up 28 & 10 in the NBA Finals. Of course it would also be a fact that any playoff production at all would be more than Carmelo or Amare could show as NY Knicks, and for that reason thus far these Donnie contracts have done the Knicks absolutely no favors.
Which leads to the question of why? Not why did Donnie pull off such debilitating moves, people make mistakes and honestly Donnie’s previous record with the Pacers (the first 23 years not most recently while representing Bird) makes him basketball royalty regardless; I just wish he didn’t do so much to damage to the Knicks in the years that followed. The question of why however, is directed towards the media and fans, as to why you never gave Donnie one legitimate critique throughout his very influential and significant career as the Knicks General Manager? Not even some constructive criticism? Like are you sure you have to give Amare that much money? Or is it necessary to give up Crawford considering he fits in D’Antoni’s system perfectly? Or what makes you think Toney Douglas is more effective than Nate Robinson? Instead not one of those questions was given much consideration by NY fans and media, who were completely sold on every single move he made no matter all the basketball intellect that may have suggested otherwise. Instead their perspective was simple… “As long as it’s not Isiah we’re cool with it”... and what followed was almost a witch hunt by free agency standards… by letting every single one of Isiah’s players go one by one… only for years later to practically regret every single one of those moves whether we admit it or not.
Jamal Crawford went on to be crowned the 6th man of the year not once, not twice, but three times since he was traded away for nothing by the NY Knicks, and each year since the Knicks have publicly made offers to try to get him to return. Today he’s the only player to ever win the award 3 times, he’s 1 of 3 players all time to score 50 points on 3 different teams, he’s 7th all time in 3 pts made, holds the record for most 4 pt plays, and has made 15+ game winning shots. But ask the average Knicks fan and media personality about those same accolades, and they’ll tell you the Knicks don’t need that…
Zach Randolph went on to have a tremendous career for the Memphis Grizzlies, a two time All Star who has made the playoffs in the West 6 years straight, in which case Randolph has legitimately dominated opponents in the playoffs solidifying himself as one of the top Power Forwards in the game. In 2010 (less than 2 years after the Knicks traded him for nothing) Randolph was instrumental in eliminating the Spurs as a heavy underdog in a 8-1 matchup. They went on to lose to Durant and Westbrook in 7 games in the semis. The following year they lost to the Clippers in 7 and then got payback on both the Clips and the Thunder the next year while making it to the Western Conference Finals. Since that time they’ve battled in the West year after year, and along with a good supporting cast Z Bo has proven to be worth every penny. In fact the Grizz got him for 35 mil less than Amare, and it’s not a debate in regards to who has had the better career.
Nate Robinson went on to immediately make an impact for the Boston Celtics, helping them advance to the NBA Finals with energy off the bench that coined him the Donkey to Glen Davis’s Shrek. After the C’s ran Lebron out of Cleveland in the semis, Rondo was playing injured and if you go back to the tapes it was Robinson who really gave them a spark in the Conference Finals vs Orlando when they needed it the most. Ultimately if Ron Artest didn’t hit that 3 in Game 7 of the Finals Nate would have earned himself a ring. Only 3 years later Nate was on the Bulls and he single handedly beat the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs by himself, at one point erasing a 14 pt deficit with a personal 12-0 run in the last 1:40 of regulation. Nate did that without Rose, Hinrich, or Deng, and for only 1 mil that season… that is a better value than any guard the Knicks have had on their roster since.
David Lee went on to be a 20 & 10 guy for the Golden State Warriors, who had 3 triple doubles and 123 straight games with scoring 10 pts or more… honestly there’s no more that needs to be said in comparison to his Knicks replacements… but for good measure he even got a ring after playing soundly off the bench in the 2015 NBA Finals. Most recently he signed a contract with the San Antonio Spurs, and is prime to give them good minutes and compete for another championship.
Channing Frye went on to be a journeyman with the Blazers, Magic, and the Suns, whose best years were in Phoenix where he officially became a 3 pt marksman and was the first center selected to the 3 pt All Star shootout since Sam Perkins in 97. He most recently however contributed a great deal to Lebron’s championship in Cleveland, coming off the bench hitting clutch 3’s at a premium, even hitting 7 out of 9 attempts in a game in the semi-finals. Once again how that compares to more recent Knicks centers is simple, they simply haven’t had one clutch moment in the playoffs period.
And last but not least Stephon Marbury went on to play good minutes for the Boston Celtics the same year he left the Knicks, and then followed that up by becoming the certified basketball King of China, with multiple championships, MVP awards, a statue, and even a broadway-like musical performance as a tribute to his honor. He’s also the same guy who, unlike Jordan, made very affordable sneakers throughout his career as a way to give back to the community. With that being said the Knicks were absolutely right to let him go in 09, and while his later international success is certainly no indictment on the Knicks, it is in fact a testament however to the value that Isiah saw in the first place...
Though when it’s all said and done it still revolves around the question of why, as on behalf of the evidence the next step is to understand the motivation, which is not easy to do if it’s indeed biased and misguided from the core. My best guess is that separate from any basketball reasons, the aversion stemmed from a cultural disconnection, the idea that Isiah and everything he stood for didn’t represent the city and everything great that it’s known for. A community that always had a 'put your hard hat on and go to work' mentality, was reeling from tragedy in the early 2000s and had the almighty NY Yankees, that not only embodied excellence but also the honor and patriotism that the city needed more than ever before - yet as a sharp contrast the Knicks at that time were identified as the exact antithesis of that prestige in every single way.
However while there were personal indiscretions from Isiah and Marbury, they honestly paled in comparison to a bevy of sports headlines that scroll across your sportscenter on a weekly basis, and honestly that’s where any real problems with the Knicks started and ended. Although Randolph has had minor legal trouble in the past that mostly involves Marijuana and surrounding himself with the wrong company, he’s truly a family man at heart and a ferocious competitor, similar to his former teammate Nate Robinson who again has never remotely been in any trouble whatsoever despite his reputation that's unwarranted. On the flipside David Lee and Jamal Crawford have been long documented to be nothing less than consomate professionals, so for that reason it's concerning how the team was ultimately labeled and stereotyped as degenerates unworthy of any admiration or respect. Without using the actual words the city called them everything but thugs, when in reality all they needed was real leadership from a honest coach and a steady point guard.
Thus in closing it needs to be stated that this was always supposed to just be about basketball, not their personalities and whether or not they reminded you of Mark Messier and Paul O’Neil, but instead if they were durable and talented enough to play the game at the highest level if put in an environment more conducive to winning. Across the board every single one of Isiah’s players proved they were all worth more consideration, and it’s a basketball travesty that the Knicks fans and media never put in the effort or the time to evaluate them objectively. Therefore I wonder how much that played into our failures in the years that followed, keeping in mind that Donnie definitely played to the newspapers when he inherited the team, and now most of us are too ashamed to admit we were on the wrong side of history. Look at the stats, watch the games, it’s all very clear, the Knicks in 2008 and 2010 made colossal mistakes, and if we can’t come to grips with that we’ll never learn from it moving forward.
Here’s to Rose’s knees holding up though, yet I wouldn’t bet on that even if I was playing with house money.