All Over For Isiah In Madison Square Garden? Might Be
By Chris Sheridan
NEW YORK -- This might have been it. This might have been Isiah Thomas' last game as head coach of the New York Knicks.
Before we go any further, let's go back and emphasize the word might. Having covered Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan and his New York Knickerbockers up close and personal for as long as we have, which is more than a decade, we have learned one universal truth: If it involves Dolan and the Knicks, err on the side of caution and choose illogic over logic.
So with that specific caveat dispensed, we'll go back to our original thought and explain just why we grew inclined to believe over the course of a strange, illogical Monday -- even by Knicks' standards -- why the end seems to be at hand for the architect and head coach of one of the NBA's charter franchises.
Reason No. 1: Dolan attended the Knicks' 100-88 loss to the New Orleans Hornets along with Garden president Steve Mills and vice president of communications Barry Watkins. Mills did not sit in his usual seat next to Dolan during the game, but he did accompany Dolan on a postgame visit to the coach's office, the threesome staying for only a few brief moments before walking stonefaced past reporters as they exited the building.
Asked during the game whether Dolan had any plans to speak to the media anytime soon, Watkins text-messaged back: "We're taking things one day at a time."
Reason No. 2: The Stephon Marbury situation. Thomas told reporters at the team's morning shootaround that Marbury would be attending the game Monday night and would speak with reporters. When a Marbury-related question was posed to Thomas 90 minutes prior to tipoff, he deflected it by saying "you can ask him yourself."
When this reporter followed up by pointing out that there was one Marbury-related question that only Thomas himself could answer -- whether Thomas had placed any restriction on Marbury from attending home games or speaking to the media -- Thomas stood up before the question was finished being asked and left the room. Team beat writers said it was the fourth time in his past seven media availability sessions that Thomas had ended things by abruptly walking away.
Marbury never showed up. Perhaps he had a reason, or perhaps the Knicks were creating a diversion and/or spinning the blame Marbury's way by making him look like a no-show following reports late last week -- which still have not been directly addressed in any kind of detail by the Knicks -- that Marbury had been told not to attend home games.
A source close to the situation confirmed to ESPN.com that Marbury was indeed told to stay away, although the Knicks reversed course Monday and told Marbury he was free to attend. Thomas would not answer afterward when asked if Marbury would be fined or suspended for missing the game.
Reason No. 3: Dolan's ego, and the Knicks' desire to keep their owner from being ridiculed. We're getting close to the one-year anniversary (March 11) of Dolan rewarding Thomas with a multi-year contract extension, which means we're close to several days worth of columns skewering Dolan's dubious decision in the New York media.
But if Thomas exits the picture in the next day or two, the topic then changes to "Well, at least Dolan finally came to his senses." In a corporate culture at Madison Square Garden where spinning the media coverage is of paramount importance, this reason may outweigh the others all by itself.
Reason No. 4: The horror show on the court. The Knicks only trailed New Orleans by four points with 1:08 left, yet by the time a timeout was called just 32 seconds later, an alley-oop dunk (Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler) and a three-point play by Paul (who was not being defended by the one player on the Knicks quick enough to defend him, Nate Robinson, because Thomas had removed Robinson with 1:33 left) had made it a nine-point game, sending the crowd streaming toward the exits.
Morris Peterson added a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left for the final margin. The loss dropped New York a season-high 24 games under .500, and the Mendoza line -- matching Larry Brown's 23 wins when he was coach of the Knicks two years ago -- might become increasingly difficult to reach with each passing loss.
So there you have it, four reasons to back up the premise that this might have been Isiah's last game with the Knicks. That doesn't mean you should necessarily look for him to be fired Tuesday, because it would be just like Dolan to leave everyone twisting in the wind for another day and drop the axe sometime late in the afternoon Wednesday. That, after all, was the way things went down four years ago when Dolan got rid of Don Chaney, who coached the Knicks at the morning shootaround that fateful day but found out he was getting fired as he wrote the game plan on the greaseboard two hours prior to tipoff.
Legend has it that security guards escorted Chaney from the building that evening, although the Knicks have always insisted that's not how it happened.
Exactly how and exactly when the end comes for Thomas -- and whether he gets the security guard escort -- will remain a mystery for the moment, but plenty of signs were there Monday pointing to an end that could be upon us at any hour, any day.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.