By John Schmeelk
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Sadly and regretfully, I once defended the idea that the New York Knicks could win a championship with James Dolan as their owner.
The crux of the argument was that he left the basketball decisions to the people he hired (as foolish as that was with Isiah Thomas), and provided nearly unlimited resources, an advantage over teams unwilling to pay the luxury tax.
The days of the hands-off Dolan ended when he stepped in and orchestrated the final stages of the Carmelo Anthony trade — and it has only gotten worse since. At this point, it’s only a matter of time before he does something that hurts the team this season and in the long-term.
The Knicks are playing not only against their opponents, but a timer that will hit zero at a time of Dolan’s choosing. When it does, all New York fans will feel the pain.
Following a 54-win season, Dolan — rightly or wrongly — expected a legitimate run to a championship this year. As unfair as it might be, everything the Knicks do in 2013-14 will be judged by their owner on that scale. When does Dolan decide that this team has done so poorly that they are on the verge on extinguishing any hopes of realizing his fantasies? Is it 10-20? Perhaps 6-12? Or maybe it’s something as limited as 4-9. Much like the creaking footsteps of Jason Voorhees in “Friday the 13th,” a move is getting closer and closer.
It’s only matter of time before the ax breaks through and the carnage ensues. Except maybe in Dolan’s case it will be his guitar smashing through the door.
Despite reports that he is safe (for now), Mike Woodson will certainly be the first person to go. The Knicks need a taker for Iman Shumpert, and it won’t be easy to find one since other teams will be happy to wait for Dolan to panic and move him for pennies on the dollar. Considering there are better coaches out there, (both Van Gundys, Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, Lionel Hollins, George Karl), a change there wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Woodson is an average coach and someone else could get more out of this team. He has been like a blind man playing darts with his ever-shifting lineups since the end of the preseason, and he has not fostered ball movement on offense, effort on defense or execution on either end necessary for the Knicks to win basketball games.
There’s no way to know how much Dolan has dictated some of Woodson’s bizarre decisions, but he is the coach and it falls on him. Of course, knowing the Knicks they wouldn’t bring the best available head coach anyway, but the options are out there. Lionel Hollins would be the best and most realistic option of the guys out there.
If a coaching change only results in marginal gains, Knicks fans would have reason to get super nervous. Despite having traded their draft picks in 2014 and 2016, the Knicks are actually positioned very well when it comes to the salary cap over the next couple years. What fans need to fear is that Dolan’s unrealistic quest for a championship this season might rob the Knicks of their good standing after the 2015 season.
Would anyone be surprised if Dolan packaged a valuable young commodity like Shumpert and someone else for an overrated veteran with multiple years left on his contract? It would seem New York’s propensity for trading certain guys has much more to do with the owner’s personal taste than actual basketball reasons. If you annoy the owner, you’re out. It’s the only criteria. And Dolan is anything but logical and fair.
Nobody wants the Knicks to crash and burn this year. But it would make their decisions moving forward much easier. If the team isn’t close to a title or even a top four seed, it’d make sense to let Carmelo Anthony leave in free agency.
Actually, if the season is over by February, it would make a ton of sense to move Melo at the All-Star break to recoup some of the first round picks the team has traded away, and perhaps some young players to boot. But everyone knows Dolan would never do something like that. Ever. It’s not happening. Of course, if the team really ends up being terrible, wouldn’t Anthony just walk away this summer? Losing an asset like that for nothing hurts a franchise immeasurably. It especially hurts one like the Knicks.
A nightmare scenario could play out. A savvy owner and GM would be able to use a lost season to their advantage, but Dolan and Steve Mills don’t qualify. I still believe this season will turn around, and a division championship is more than possible, but it happen fast before the owner begins to meddle and ruins it all.
I can see it now: Dolan standing in the center of the newly transformed Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks City Dancers not dancing, while the sky bridges and new scoreboard fall down all around them. All the while, Woodson looks on incredulously as J.R. Smith hoists up a step-back 22-foot jumper for the right wing. Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin sit at trainer’s table getting worked on. Ray Felton is eating a cheeseburger as he dribbles while Pablo Prigioni looks confused on the bench. Anthony is walking out the door before he can be caught in the rubble.
That’s going to be Knicks basketball if things don’t get better very, very, soon.
You can follow John on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything on the Knicks, Giants and New York sports.
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