Friday, November 28, 2008


WHAT'S been the best American soap opera of the last decade: General Hospital or the New York Knickerbockers?

Hardly a day goes by, it seems, without some sex scandal, row story or off-the-court controversy emerging from Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks are rarely off the front or back pages of the New York newspapers. They are a constant topic of conversation on talk radio shows. Sadly, from their loyal fans’ point of view, it’s hardly ever for their achievements in the National Basketball Association.

You have to go back to 1973 to find the last time they won the NBA Championship. And they haven’t captured an Eastern Conference title since 1999.

The Patrick Ewing era is a distant memory. Since then, a succession of high-profile coaches and players have come and gone, none of them managing to bring back the glory days to one of the most famous franchises in basketball.

Worse still, they have plunged the Knicks deeper and deeper into the abyss, saddling the organization with long-terms contracts that have left it with little or no room for maneuver within the salary cap.

Larry Brown’s much-heralded arrival ended with an $18.5 million buyout of his five-year contract. The decision to let Isiah Thomas take over the day-to-day running of the team had even more disastrous effects.

Not only did the Knicks stink under clueless coach Thomas but he then landed them with a sexual harassment lawsuit that resulted in a jury awarding $11.6 million in punitive damages against MSG.

All this has been presided over by owner James Dolan, chairman of Cablevision, the parent company of the Madison Square Garden corporation.

Still some weeding to be done at the Garden

Dolan’s latest move has been to appoint former Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh as team president and ex-Phoenix Suns coach Mike D’Antoni as head coach.

Walsh and D’Antoni are now attempting to clear away the wreckage left by ten years of mismanagement…and it’s proving no easy task.

Not surprisingly, there is no quick fix. That’s been the underlying problem of the past decade: too many quick fixes aimed at achieving overnight success.

D’Antoni has cleared out the cupboard to such an extent that the current team is now playing short-handed. In other words, the Knicks don’t have enough bench players.

This has been accentuated by the fact that the Knicks last remaining star player, Stephon Marbury, refuses to play for the team. D’Antoni has made it clear that Marbury has no future in New York and Marbury has made it clear he has no intention of accepting a bit part.

Marbury, who is owed $21.9 million in wages this season, seems content to sit at home and wait for one of two things to happen: a contract buyout or a trade. Whichever happens, Dolan’s wallet is going to take another big hit.

Once Marbury has gone, D’Antoni and Walsh can begin planning for the future, namely the summer of 2010, when four of the biggest names in basketball become free agents: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors and Amare Stoudemire of the Suns.

It’s no secret that James is the man most wanted. Rumor has it that his sponsor, Nike, will pay him $100 million if he joins a big-market team so James could well be attracted by the bright lights of the Big Apple, where he would become an instant hero (if he isn’t already).

New York fans actually cheered James when he played for the Cavaliers against the Knicks at MSG last week. Well, they’ve had little to cheer from their own team.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Knicks will land LeBron or any other of the “Big Four.” In the meantime, they’re going to be a sub .500 team for at least another two years.

That’s something long-suffering Knickerbockers supporters will be willing to put up with…just as long as no one turns off the light at the end of the tunnel.

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