We probably should have known something was up when for the first time in six years, James Dolan took a question from the media.
Less than twenty-four hours after this historic event, he canned Glenn Grunwald, who up to that point, had been the Knicks’ General Manager for a full two seasons (a decade in New York basketball years). Apropos of nothing, the architect of the Knicks first Atlantic Division title in nineteen years was cast aside, demoted to an all but irrelevant adviser role.
His replacement is Danny Mills, who as head honcho of MSG from 2003-2008, recommended that the Knicks name Isaiah Thomas team president. He has never held a general manager position, and despite alleged well-connected-ness in NBA circles, proved unable to succeed Billy Hunter as executive director of the players’ union.
What does this mean for the Knicks? Thankfully, not the return of Isaiah Thomas. But the real lesson here might be an even tougher pill to swallow. What this ill conceived, impulsive GM swap signifies is a complete failure on Dolan’s part to learn anything from the Knicks 10+ year journey from habitual bottom dweller to legitimate contender. Because as downright shocking as the front office shake up was, the motivation was clear: Sign a big name free agent in 2014 or 2015 at all costs.
For Knicks fans, this approach is all too familiar. It was more or less the teams’ mantra during the woeful 2000 years, when players like Penny Hardaway, Zach Randolph and Stephon Marbury were signed to big deals with little return on the investment. The Knicks were caught in no man’s land, not quite a contender but not quite a lottery team, failing to build a strong core with draft picks and trading them for name brand underachievers whenever they had the chance.
With Mills back in the fold, they might not be far from a return to mediocrity. All the progress made by the Walsh and Grunwald administration – this well rounded, veteran oriented, championship caliber roster – could all be wiped out in an instant in order to secure one of the big names coming off the books in the coming years. Of course, no one in the tristate area would complain if the Knicks managed to get LeBron James or Rajon Rondo, but they might have something to say about a far more likely scenario, in which the star hungry Knicks desperately take on a second tier name like LaMarcus Aldridge, or the chronically injured Kevin Love. Should such a scenario occur, they could be one inactive player away from another lost decade.
Marcus Cambys agent Rick Kaplin summed up Grunwald’s tenure best, calling him “a guy that remarkably created a winning atmosphere in one of the most toxic NBA environments today.” With this pillar of stability gone, what happens next to the Knicks is anybody’s guess. For better or – in all likelihood – worse, the Knicks are stuck with James Dolan.