Knicks Problem is James Dolan, Not Woodson
Hypothetical scenario: let’s say you were an ardent supporter of a major sports franchise in the largest metropolitan market in North America. Now let’s say the man presiding over your beloved franchise, which occupies the World’s Most Famous Arena, has two world championships to its credit, and plays in the center of America’s #1 media market, has compiled a 509-623 record during his tenure.
Wouldn’t it be high time for that guy to go?
Sadly for NBA fans in the Big Apple, that’s not a hypothetical situation. The team is the New York Knicks, and the man is James L. Dolan, Executive Chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company. Since his ascension in 1999, Dolan has consistently underachieved yet side-stepped criticism by blaming (and subsequently firing) a litany of front-office personnel, GMs, and coaches. Mr. Dolan, you should be aware that by now, we’ve pretty much all caught on.
And yet, after a tepid start from yet another Knicks roster, James Dolan again wants to assign blame to his coach, Mike Woodson, who’s done nothing but win 68% of his games since his tenure began. No, Mr. Dolan, not this time. This time, finally, it’s time for you to point the finger at the man truly responsible for the steady erosion of a once-proud NBA franchise: yourself.
Dolan assumes full power in 1999, Knicks troubles begin
According to Wikipedia, this is a brief overview of James Dolan’s rise to power at MSG:
In 1994, Paramount Communications, the owner of Madison Square Garden, was acquired by Viacom, who in turn sold the MSG properties to Cablevision and ITT Corporation, which had 50% ownership each. ITT sold its share to Cablevision three years later.
In 1999, Dolan was given an increased role in managing Cablevision’s sports properties and is now the primary manager of these assets. The teams under his domain include most notably the National Basketball Association‘s New York Knicks…
As Chairman of Madison Square Garden, he supervises day-to-day operations of its professional sports teams and regional sports networks, which include MSG Network and MSG Plus. He also serves as a governor of the Knicks and Rangers to their respective leagues.
From 1987 through 2001, the New York Knicks made the NBA playoffs every season. They made the NBA Finals twice, losing to the Houston Rockets in 1994 and the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. Despite the disappointment, the 1999 Finals loss to the Spurs was a tremendous feat, as New York entered the playoffs as the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference in that abbreviated season.
Dolan assumed his power following the 1999 NBA Finals, and all began well enough. The Knicks lost in the Eastern Conference finals after a 50-win season in 1999-2000. From there, things began to fall apart. A first loss NBA playoff loss to the Toronto Raptors would be the last time the Knicks won a single playoff game until 2012.
Dolan’s decision-making became infamous virtually instantaneously when he offered guard Allan Houston a $100 million contract extension in 2001, when no other team offered Houston over $75 million. In the end, Houston’s injuries caused him to sit out the last two years of his contract but still get paid $40 million by the franchise. Awful contracts given to players like Eddy Curry and Jerome James followed. Many of Dolan’s mistakes were attributed to former Knicks GM Scott Layden, but since Layden’s departure from the Knicks, poor decisions have continued.
Another massive blunder by James Dolan is his prolonged mistreatment of Knicks legend Patrick Ewing. Ewing, who single-handedly made New York relevant for its playoff run from 1987 through the 1990s, paid his NBA dues as an assistant coach throughout the league. When he approached the Knicks about a coaching role in September 2012, he was offered a job with the Knicks D-League squad. Ouch.
2010 NBA free agency period – 2013 NBA season: Knicks failures continue
The New York Knicks struggled through much of the 2000s, with much the latter half of that futility based around the notion that the Knickerbockers would acquire marquee free agents and build towards Eastern Conference supremacy and a push back to the NBA Finals. From 2001-02 through the 2009-10 NBA season, New York’s once-proud basketball franchise muddled through 9 consecutive losing seasons, making the NBA playoffs just once and losing 49+ games 7 times.
Then, the 2010 NBA offseason came, and with it one of the most highly anticipated NBA free agent classes in history. The free agent crop read like a Who’s Who of NBA superstars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Rudy Gay, Ray Allen, and even an aging Shaquille O’Neal were up for grabs. The Knicks, who had cleared a majority of their poisonous contracts under the guidance of then-President of Basketball Operations Donnie Walsh.
And yet, despite the Knicks’ best efforts and the franchise’s inherent competitive advantages – the ability to play in Manhattan and Madison Square Garden, the copious marketing opportunities afforded to players in the nation’s #1 media market, and the cap space to bring in not one, but two max contracts – the Knicks generally struck out. Most notable of these failures was LeBron James rebuffing the Knicks’ overtures to “take his talents to South Beach” and the Miami Heat. Many believed that LeBron’s rejection of New York was due, in no small part, to his disinterest in playing for James Dolan.
Ultimately, the Knicks gave $100 million to Amar’e Stoudemire and his balky knees, a decision which has blown up in the franchise’s face. New York did trade to acquire Carmelo Anthony later that season, but the lack of a proper supporting cast has always been the issue with Melo’s tenure in MSG.
As for Donnie Walsh, the man who afforded New York the fiscal responsibility and opportunity to begin anew with Melo in the first place? He was jettisoned by James Dolan (in the form of “resigning”) in 2011, and now sits as a consultant to the Indiana Pacers – who, unsurprisingly, are now the greatest threat to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, in part due to Walsh’s guidance.
Speaking of Walsh: the Knicks are now rumored to be shopping Iman Shumpert, their best perimeter defender and the last major draft pick of Walsh’s NY tenure, to several NBA franchises. It’s not an advisable move to make, but then again, it’s James Dolan. Why should anyone be surprised?
James Dolan’s theatrics cause more harm then good
After a 1-3 start by the New York Knicks this season, Dolan’s antics once again took center stage. Dolan banned the Knicks City Dancers from performing indefinitely, a decision which was somehow supposed to improve the play of his basketball team. Word has been leaked that Dolan actually places minutes restrictions on some of his players (like Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin), going over the head of coach Mike Woodson. Speaking of Woodson, word has it that Dolan has had an employee “trail” the Knicks coach as of late. And, in perhaps the most bizarre moment of Dolan’s recent tirades, he promised a Knicks win over the Atlanta Hawks (which did occur) while on stage leading his blues band, JD and the Straight Shot.
This is not the first time when James Dolan’s antics have caused him to overshadow his franchise. In 2007, Dolan was named in a sexual harrassment suit by former Knicks executive Anucha Browne-Sanders, where Browne-Sanders alleged that after approaching Dolan with accusations of sexual harrassment by then-coach Isiah Thomas, Dolan fired her. Dolan was eventually found responsible for $3 million of the $11 million total judgment.
Dolan’s irresponsible spending has extended beyond questionable player contracts, onto the bench and into the front office. After Jeff Van Gundy‘s coaching tenure ended in 2001, the Knicks hired 6 head coaches between 2001 and 2012: Don Chaney, Herb Williams (interim, twice), Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas and Mike D’Antoni. None of these men lasted longer than 4 seasons on the job, and none finished with a winning record. Even so, after each coach was removed, many were still owed many due to questionable contract extensions, most notably Chaney.
Mike Woodson: the right coach for the New York Knicks
So now, with the Knicks off to a less than spectacular start, blame has instantly been assigned to Mike Woodson, who is presumed to be the next of James Dolan’s scapegoats for team failure. And it would be a horrible miscarriage of justice if Woodson were to be forced out as Knicks head coach.
In his first 106 games at the helm, Woodson has amassed a 72-34 record. Purely in terms of winning percentage (67.9%), Woodson is the second-most successful coach in Knicks franchise history, just behind Pat Riley’s .680 winning percentage. He’s won at a better clip with the Knicks than Hall of Fame coaches Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, Rick Pitino and even the legendary Red Holzman.
And yet, we’re supposed to place blame on Mike Woodson – the first coach of the Knickerbockers since Jeff Van Gundy to place proper emphasis on defense. The first coach to assign equal responsibility to his star players and the 12th man on his bench. On face value, it makes sense: every time the Knicks have fallen short since 1999, the head coach has been the fall guy.
But let’s take the New York Knicks problems on a more fundamental level. Why aren’t we assigning the blame where it properly belongs – to the one man who has been the single constant factor of every underachieving, under-talented, mismanaged, poorly created Knicks roster?
That man is James Dolan. So stop blaming Mike Woodson. Stop blaming Carmelo Anthony. Stop blaming the Knicks City Dancers, or Amar’e's knees, or anything else. Blame James Dolan. He’s got to go.
- Knicks and Nuggets Reportedly Discussing Iman Shumpert-Kenneth Faried Trade (slamonline.com)
- Knicks Coach Mike Woodson Coaching For His Job … In November. (thejvillereport.com)
- Report: Angry Dolan Orders Knicks City Dancers To Stop … Dancing (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- 3-Pointer: November 13, 2013 (tuesdayswithhorry.wordpress.com)
- Knicks Rewind: Awful start not Woodson’s fault (nypost.com)