After Anucha Browne Sanders’s sexual-harassment suit exposed us all to the darkness that is the inner sanctum of the New York Knicks—and the irrational stubbornness of owner Jim Dolan—it is time for fans to look on the bright side: The ordeal could possibly lead to higher-quality basketball. Nothing we learned about the character of coach and general manager Isiah Thomas was especially revelatory. He’s a hard guy, with a deep internal reservoir of resentment and few social graces, and office creep or not (well, the jury said he was), he will coach the Knicks this season—with as much to prove as anyone in the league.
From a fan’s perspective, this is not the worst possible development. Without a genuine superstar, the Knicks are a back-of-the-herd team that will have to perform above and beyond their abilities to get anywhere. Thomas’s strategy, as we have seen it take shape over the last year, is to bond with his players as fellow outlaws—against white people, women, the media, and now presumably the judicial system. Given that his big off-season score was Zach Randolph, yet another talented loose cannon with extensive legal experience, this could work out okay. As forward Malik Rose told the Times after the verdict, the team intends to “be like a collective shield for him and help him get through this time.” Not exactly Hoosiers II, but if that’s what it takes to rally a team of disaffected millionaires these days, go ahead, guys, declare war on the world.
Before he became famous for vehicular copulation with a team intern, Stephon Marbury showed signs he might not be the most irredeemable ball-hog in the league, possibly inspired by Thomas’s determination to be not so much his mentor as his kindred spirit. In a perfect world, Marbury would not be your point guard, but these are the Knicks we’re talking about, and like Dolan, he’s not going anywhere. So it’s a question of how much Thomas can fire him up. Thomas has been routinely trashed for his personnel moves, and rightly so in the case of the brain-lapse deal for Steve Francis. But Francis is gone now, and the scrappy role players Thomas has drafted (Renaldo Balkman, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Mardy Collins) represent the smartest moves the Knicks have made since Al Bianchi scooped John Starks and Anthony Mason from the discount bin. The best fans can hope for is that Thomas seeks redemption, and finds it, on the basketball court.