By John Schmeelk
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James Dolan is an easy target.
He doesn’t speak with the media often, if ever. When he does, he doesn’t sound even close to the smartest man in the room. His two franchises have not exactly been models for winning the past decade. His media policies are annoying to say the least. He owns Cablevision, far from a well liked company in New York. He is the only man on the planet that still thinks Isiah Thomas is a trustworthy basketball man. There are more negatives I can pile on but I don’t want to bore you. All that being said, he is far from an impossible obstacle to overcome for the Knicks to win a title.
(I need to make a quick point here. I am not a Dolan fan. He has tons of issues, the Thomas relationship the biggest one. This should not be considered an endorsement or a defense of Dolan’s reign as Knicks owner. It’s simply a plea for fans to take a step back and really decide how much he effects the team day to day on the court, and winning and losing)
Articles in every major paper today referenced how Dolan will be a huge impediment to bringing in a big time head coach. Others have uttered throw away lines like: “The Knicks can never win with James Dolan as owner.” Neither is true.
Lenny Wilkens came to coach the Knicks. Dolan brought in Larry Brown. Donnie Walsh came to work with Dolan. He brought in Mike D’Antoni. Glen Grunwad by all accounts, is a good man and a better basketball mind. These are big names that came regardless of Dolan’s presence. They won’t be the last to take his money either.
Money talks, not just when it comes to the numbers on a head coach’s contract (but those do matter a lot), but also resources when it comes to improving a team. Dolan has never been hesitant on spending money on the Knicks, and I doubt that will change even with the newer more restrictive luxury tax system. Some teams in the Knicks position would stop spending since they are over the cap. Dolan will not. That matters. Providing resources is the primary responsibility of an owner and Dolan does that better than anyone.
Now is Dolan a meddler? There seems to be little doubt he forced Walsh on the Carmelo Anthony trade, but need I remind the world how the media and fans reacted to that? 98% of the fan base was overjoyed after the trade, despite the fact they might have overpaid a little bit. Donnie Walsh wanted Carmelo too, just not at the price he paid. When I questioned the deal in this space, and made the point Carmelo was not in the LeBron James class of player, the negative reaction was insane. Knicks fans wanted to string me up.
And realistically, would still possessing Timofey Mosgov make a big difference right now? Was he really a deal breaker? Despite the Nuggets superior record, does anyone thing they are closer to a title than the Knicks? Would you rather have the Knicks core, or a core of Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Nene, Timofey Mozgov and Aaron Afflalo? I think I know the answer to that question. Stars still win in this league.
Dolan allowed Thomas to run the show as he saw fit for years, despite horrendous results. He was hands off at his own peril. Rangers fan know well how he lets Glen Sather do what he wants. It was Grunwald that made the Tyson Chandler move this offseason, not Dolan. D’Antoni was given three and a half years without interference. For the most part, minus a couple circumstances, Dolan lets his sports people do what he pays them to do. And finally, it does seem like Thomas is finally out of the picture completely. The media policy and big brother might be an impediment, but one a coach will deal with for a real chance to win a title.
Despite some overreactions to recent struggles, the Knicks do have talent on the roster. Are they championship caliber?Maybe not at the moment, but they can be very soon if things on the court are worked out. You’re telling me that a coach wouldn’t want to come in and coach two dynamic offensive players like Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire? Tyson Chandler is any coach’s dream. Then you have a young and improving cerebral point guard like Jeremy Lin and a potential future starter at the two in Iman Shumpert. This team should be able to win one or two playoff rounds once they figure it out, which will happen eventually. (That’s assuming Carmelo and Amar’e Stoudemire eventually revert to their career norms. If they don’t, this is a whole different conversation.
The bottom line is that winning solves everything. Was Dolan a huge problem during Linsanity, when the town fell in love with the Knicks? Was Dolan a huge problem when the Knicks played so well last year after the Carmelo Anthony trade? Look, I’m not saying he is the ideal owner and he doesn’t have plenty of faults. He does. But the Knicks can win a title with him as the owner. People were saying the same things about George Steinbrenner before the Yankees started winning titles. In fact, you can compare Donnie Walsh’s cleanup of the Knicks to what Stick Michael did for the Yankees.
It’s up to the players now, even more than the current and future coach. Carmelo needs to understand the franchise is now truly on his shoulders and become the player and leader he can be. The team has to play better together. They have to give full effort on defense. Simply throwing in the towel and saying the Knicks can’t win with Dolan is wrong and irresponsible. All over sports, owners once considered terrible eventually made runs and won titles. They just have to hire the right people. Grunwald is a good basketball guy and seems like a competent general manager. Now they need a coach with a firm hand that can mold this group into a true team. If Grunwald can bring in the right leader for this team, it will make all the difference, and then everyone will forget about how bad an owner Dolan is.
You can follow me on twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.