By John Schmeelk
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There’s only one person that knows exactly what role Isiah Thomas played in the Knicks trade for Carmelo Anthony: James Dolan. He will never address the media and be honest about it so the rest of the orange and blue Knicks nation will be left to figure it out for themselves. Let me help a little bit.
Some people, and they include excellent reporters like Frank Isola, believe that Isiah is omnipresent. He’s a dark shadow slinking around Two Penn Plaza, whispering sweet nothings and diabolical schemes into the mind of Dolan, who can’t resist his temptations. He’s like an exorcised demon that was finally ripped out of the organization, but just won’t go away. Isiah sits in a dark smoky room in Florida running the Knicks with some shadow organization of former loyalists still with the team and associates like World Wide William Wesley and his friends at Creative Arts Agency. Every time Isiah gets his way he lets out a maniacal laugh. As funny and pathetic as it sounds, Isiah actually seems to perpetuate this idea, thinking it makes him look GOOD. I think the man sitting in the smoky, supposedly using his mind control powers on Dolan, might have a screw loose. Think a cross between Dr. Evil, Emperor Palapatine, Cobra Commander and Jason Voorhies – subtle, crazy, smooth, scary, hilarious, incompetent and impossible to get rid of all at the same time.
Donnie Walsh has a much different idea of what’s happening. He doesn’t deny that Dolan speaks to Isiah, but he does deny that those conversations have any effect on how the Knicks are run. The Carmelo Anthony trade was put together and executed by his direction with the help of Mike D’Antoni and Dolan. He liked the trade and executed it with no input from the dark specter of Isiah . Walsh says he has full control of the Knicks, and wants to be back next year to finish the job of bringing the Knicks a championship. This does not sound like a man being railroaded out of his job.
So where’s the truth? Was Walsh simply lying through his teeth yesterday, or are very good reporters like Isola simply making this stuff up because they have an agenda? I think the truth sits somewhere in between. I don’t have any sources. This is simply my process of coming to a logical conclusion of what I think actually happened.
There’s no question that Isiah has Dolan’s ear. For some unfathomable reason, Dolan still trusts Isiah’s decision making and basketball acumen. There’s no doubt he accepts his counsel and uses it when he makes franchise decision. Otherwise, Dolan wouldn’t have tried to hire Isiah as a consultant last summer. He still wants Isiah as part of the organization and decision making process. The logical conclusion is that Isiah was definitely advising Dolan throughout the Carmelo discussions. He might have also been talking to World Wide Wes and Carmelo’s agency, CAA, to try to facilitate the deal his way so he could take credit for it. This is how Isiah’s mind works – scary stuff.
The question that needs to be asked is how much Isiah’s covert machinations actually affected the trade. There’s no way he was talking to Denver directly in negotiations. His greatest impact would have come once Dolan was alone in Los Angeles and met not only with Carmelo, but Denver management. At that point, Thomas could have convinced the Knicks owner to give concessions that perhaps Walsh wouldn’t have, at least not at that point in time. That’s where I think Thomas’s influence was, and there’s a good chance Walsh has no idea it was even there.
Here’s my vision of how this trade went down: Walsh was negotiating with the Nuggets for a couple months, and getting nowhere with negotiations. Once the Nets dropped out, the Knicks gained some leverage, Walsh re-engaged the Nuggets and proceeded to play hardball (remember the three way deal with the T-Wolves where the Knicks would only give up Randolph, Curry and Chandler?).
As time dragged on and there was no progress, as many expected, the Nets got back into the mix. With the trade deadline about a week away, the pressure was on to get a deal done. At some point in the next few days, it became clear to the Knicks (my guess it was when Dolan met with Anthony in LA last Thursday) that Carmelo was never going to go to free agency. He wanted his extension above all else, and would be willing to go to the Nets, or maybe even stay in Denver to get it. It was at this point the Knicks decided to include Danilo Gallinari in their trade offer.
Denver, to their credit, played it cool and continued to indicate the Nets were the favorites. They arranged Carmelo to meet with the Prokhorov and the Nets on Saturday, further pressuring the Knicks. This is where I think Isiah’s influence came into play. I believe Walsh, if left to his own devices would have held firm in the initial trade proposal and let it ride out until much closer to the trade deadline. However, Isiah got into Dolan’s head and convinced the Knicks owner that they had to do whatever it took to get their star. Only James Dolan can say how much of that push came from him, and how much came from Isiah. Dolan told Walsh to include Mozgov and whatever other picks in a new offer to put the Knicks over the top.
Walsh, unhappy to increase his offer so soon, gave into his boss. He understood that perhaps the Knicks would be giving up more than they had to, but the trade was still good for the franchise and it guaranteed them a second star to pair with Stoudemire. Timofey Mozgov was not going to be a deal breaker, an understandable position. It was a concession Walsh would have eventually made much closer to the trade deadline, but only if he had to in order to finalize the deal. In the end, like Walsh said yesterday, it was his decision to complete the trade and it was a trade he wanted to make. It was an organizational decision, and publically everyone has to back it.
It brings everything together. It shows that the reports from people like Isola were accurate, though perhaps a little overblown. It means Walsh wasn’t lying through his teeth. It would explain why the Knicks were happy with the trade, yet D’Antoni made the point it was bittersweet since they included so many good players (I’m not arrogant enough to think D’Antoni got that from my column yesterday, am I?). It was a good trade for the franchise, even if the Knicks overpaid a little bit.
None of us will know for sure what the truth is until we see about Walsh’s extension. If it isn’t picked up by the Knicks, or turned down by Walsh (yesterday it didn’t sound like he would), it shows that Isola and the Isiah conspiracy theorists are much more right than they are wrong. On the other hand, if Walsh is back next year, Isiah is much more a wayward spirit whispering on the wind, than he is a shadow broker running the Knicks from a secret base down in Florida.