The Prophet Isiah


Believe it or not, Knicks fans, there is hope.

Sure, the team’s record is abysmal. The coach has regressed from mere incompetence to outright delusion (“I believe one day we will win a championship here . . . and I believe I will be a part of that”). Individual players are either underperforming or unraveling. As a team, the Knicks are simply incoherent. There’s no harmony, rhythm, intensity, or precision to their game.

Their January 2 home game epitomized the haplessness. It’s one thing to lose to good teams on the road. It’s quite another to get smoked at the Garden by the Sacramento Kings, a mediocre team playing without three starters.

Reinstated into the Knicks’ starting lineup, the struggling Eddy Curry was fired up in the first half and scored 20 points. But he tired out, got into foul trouble, and only scored four points in the second half while getting outrebounded 16 to 3 by his counterpart, Brad Miller. Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson did nothing; the inscrutable Stephon Marbury did something, but not enough; and—underscoring the team’s complete lack of leadership—its best player, Zach Randolph, got tossed on a silly technical to guarantee the Knicks’ humiliating loss.

On the bench, Isiah Thomas appeared to be in a catatonic state, no doubt indicative of his fragile mental state, as he randomly substituted and tinkered with his starting lineup without any apparent rhyme or reason.

Then, of course, there’s the team’s owner, whence all the ugliness orginates—and, boy, is there an abundance of fucked-up shit
there. I covered the cable-TV industry for five years not so long ago, and believe me, if Jimmy Dolan hadn’t been the boss’s son, he wouldn’t get a job at Cablevision as an assistant equipment manager, much less run Madison Square Garden and a professional basketball team.

Worst of all, Dolan—who is truly a jerk and also supremely arrogant—can’t admit that he’s in over his head, making it very, very difficult to correct previous mistakes.

So where’s the glimmer of hope?

Two words: February 19. The trading deadline.

Although Thomas’s public line now is that he has no plans to make trades, he let slip as part of his notorious “one day we will win a championship here” rant last week this nugget: “I believe a couple of these guys will be part of that.”

A “couple” of players will be around for that? Hey, folks, there’s going be some new nameplates on the lockers, and sooner rather than later. Now Thomas’s seemingly bizarre substitutions and slapdash rotations suddenly make sense: He’s showcasing the merchandise to potential buyers.

Who could be gone? That’s easy: anyone on the current roster. Contracts are the big stumbling block, of course, but things are so bad that if the right deal can be worked out, there aren’t—and certainly shouldn’t be—any untouchables.

Who can the Knicks get? That’s harder. Among the big names, possibly the Pacers’ Jermaine O’Neal, the Kings’ Mike Bibby, and the Grizzlies’ Pau Gasol. B-level availables include Jason William and Smush Parker from the Heat, Hakim Warrick and Mike Conley from the Grizzlies, and the Pacers’ Marquis Daniels.

But the guy to watch for is the Kings’ Ron Artest. Yes, he’s a head case, but a potentially redeemable one—who also happens to be a hell of a basketball player, and just the kind of defensive monster and passionate floor leader the Knicks desperately need.

And Artest wants to play here, making the risk of obtaining him a better bet. Don’t forget, the dude is a born-and-bred New Yorker, loves the city, and said just last week he’d be thrilled to be a Knick. Plus the Knicks tried to get him over the summer, he can opt out of his contract after the season, and it’s not as if he’s a beloved hero in Sacramento anyway.

Here’s the best part: Even if Thomas doesn’t end up making a single trade, it could still be a good thing for Knicks fans, because that means there is absolutely no chance that anything will be salvaged this season. Which means the debacle could reach the point that even dickhead Jimmy Dolan may be forced to act and finally clean house. And if not little Jimmy, then Big Daddy Chuck.

The Dolans may be arrogant, but they are businessmen who have eyes and can count. They also lie, which is why the attendance figures are inflated. But I saw Jimmy at the Kings game last week, and I know he saw what I saw: a whole bunch of empty seats.

Boos are one thing. But it takes paying fans to boo loudly and chant “Fire Isiah!” with any kind of intensity; at least fans who show up and bellow actually
care. Last week, the crowd could barely even be bothered to boo or chant, which is bad enough. But there were a lot fewer people showing up at the Garden to do it, which, as far as the Dolans are concerned, is much, much worse.

Although, in the long run, better for the real fans.