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The Worst GM Ever
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The Worst GM Ever
Written By Robert Bonnette

   
 Warning:  What you are about to read is based on facts, but is full of vitriol and bad
feelings.  If you are a fan of Isaiah Thomas, you may want to stop reading now.  


The NBA trade deadline has passed, and the NBA season is about to hit the home stretch.  
From here on out, it’s all about playoff positioning for some and getting the young bucks some
burn for others.  This year, things were surprisingly slow; only a few teams made any deals, and
there weren’t any huge last minute deals involving big name players.  The past two seasons
saw Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace get moved in last minute deals that shocked
everyone; no such luck this year.  This year it was all about spare parts being exchanged
between teams in the second tier of the playoff chase, like Denver, Cleveland, and New
Orleans.  

One team, however, did manage to stray away from the pack and make some bold moves, the
likes of which will alter its fortunes for the next several seasons.  That team is the New York
Knicks, currently being run (into the ground) by Hall of Famer Isaiah Thomas.  Thomas has
made a series of acquisitions that have resulted in the Knicks roster being filled with several big
name, high profile players.  Unfortunately for Knicks fans like me, these players also happen to
be vastly overpaid and vastly overrated.  The names read like a who’s who of guys who are
getting way too much money for way too many years.  But that’s not all; many of these players
were traded for players with contracts that were expiring after this season.  So not only did
Thomas add a bunch of bloated salaries, he got rid of contracts that he could have let expire so
the Knicks could have some space under the salary cap next season.  But wait, it gets worse.  
He’s also committed the cardinal sin of giving out contracts that were more lucrative than any
other offers people were receiving.  For committing these transgressions, I’m officially giving
Zeke the title of worst GM ever.  The case is open shut after last week’s Steve Francis trade,
and I’ll show you why.

The primary responsibility of a general manger in any sport is to acquire players for the team,
preferably good ones who don’t cost too much.  There are three ways to do this: the draft,
trades, and free agency.   While Thomas has been very good at drafting players for both of the
teams he has run (as GM in Toronto he picked Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and Tracy
McGrady), when it comes to trades and free agency he is downright awful.  And seeing as how
those two parts of the job are the least dependent on luck, unlike the draft where a ping pong
ball in a hopper can be the difference between you getting to pick a no-brainer like Tim Duncan
and getting stuck with Austin Croshere, they are a bigger real gauge on whether or not you
know what you’re doing.  And after further review, it’s clear that Thomas has no clue how to run
a team.  He has repeatedly swapped who made good economic sense to keep around for ones
that don’t, and hasn’t improved the quality of the team in the process.  It’s one thing to
overspend on top notch players that will get you to the promised land of the NBA Finals, but
Thomas has done no such thing.  His fiscal insanity has been resulted in a slew of me-first
players more concerned with their individual stat line that with the final score of the game.  The
results have been disastrous; the Knicks often get blown out, even at home, by teams of
varying quality.  They currently have the second worst record in the league despite having the
highest payroll by far, and have nothing that seems like any kind of real plan in place.  Fans are
willing to sit through one or several seasons of losing if there is some method to the madness,
like breaking young players in or getting under the salary cap to sign some big time free agents
in a year or two.  But that’s clearly not the case here; Thomas has ruined any chances of
financial flexibility over the next several years and hindered any chances of a real youth
movement beyond the three rookies they brought in this year by trading away their next two first
round picks.  So they’re screwed today, and screwed tomorrow as well.  Nice job, Zeke.

The financial ineptitude this man displays is downright awful.  Rule number one in acquiring
players is that you must avoid high overpaid players at all cost, unless their contracts are in up
within a year or two.  Zeke has broken that rule in embarrassing fashion.  Right now he has six
players who will be making over $8 million a year through 2009, including two who will be doing
so until 2011.  And to make matter worse, these are guys who aren’t winners, who won’t get you
the big game let alone win one.  No one else is going to want to these guys until the last year of
their respective contracts, which means the Knicks are going to be stuck with all of them until
2008 at the earliest.  What’s really stupid about the whole thing is that many of these guys are
all players who had been correctly labeled as overpaid years ago.  Stephon Marbury, Jalen
Rose, Maurice Taylor, Steve Francis, and Quentin Richardson all signed huge six and seven
year contracts with their previous teams only to reveal a year or two in that they weren’t as
good as their names or stat lines would have you believe.  This was not top secret information;
everybody knew this, so how on earth do you acquire not one or two, but all five of these guys?  

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Zeke added to the problem by giving big contracts to guys who
hadn’t cashed in yet, but had proven their mediocrity as players.  Eddy Curry is a seven footer
with tremendous athletic ability who averages fewer rebounds than Jason Kidd, a man eight
inches shorter.  Yet that didn’t stop Thomas from giving him $60 million over six years even
though no other team was in the neighborhood of that kind of offer.  Jamal Crawford displayed
all kinds of attitude problems in Chicago, plays no defense, and jacks up a bunch of bad shots
every game, yet for some reason Thomas wanted him bad enough to give him $55 million over
seven years.  Then there’s Jerome James, who’s been a dog most of his career, but managed
to have one good playoff series last year.  Thomas rewarded him with $30 million over five
years.  There’s not one move of those three that makes any sense from either a basket ball or
a money standpoint.  You’d be hard pressed to find a GM on any team who would give out
those deals to so many players.  Maybe one, but not all three.  And this is real money, not NFL
monopoly money, where an alleged $50 million contract ends up costing the team less than half
that much when it’s all said and done.  All those guys are going to get paid regardless of how
well or bad they play.  

If you’re keeping count, that’s eight guys who shouldn’t be making the money they’re making,
but are doing so while playing for the Knicks.  You can get by with one or two such players on
your roster, but not eight.  And it only gets even worse when you break down the numbers
further.  The NBA has a salary cap of just under $50 million; there are loopholes that allow you
to exceed it, but it’s better to be under it whenever possible.  The Knicks haven’t been under
the cap for Lord knows how long, and thanks to Isaiah it will be at least three years until they
are again.  Going into this season, they had a payroll of roughly $127 million.  Ouch.  Had they
stood pat and just let people’s contracts expire, they’d have been just under the cap come
2007, maybe lower with a few good moves.  But since the end of last season, Thomas has gone
on a spending binge that has all but destroyed that possibility.  Thanks to Thomas’ blunders,
they won’t be there until 2009 at the earliest.  And that’s if he doesn’t make any other
boneheaded trades; who knows how bad it could get if he keeps his act up.  Pretty awful, huh?  
This is a team in need of a major roster overhaul, but that won’t be a possibility for years.  

Zeke hasn’t just messed up when it comes to contracts; he’s making bad basketball moves as
well.  Acquiring Francis gave the Knicks three shoot-first point guards (Francis, Marbury, and
Nate Robinson), along with two other swingmen who have masqueraded as point guards (Jalen
Rose and Jamal Crawford).  So you have five guys who should all be playing shooting guard
but have fooled people into believing they can be point guards, mainly because they can
dribble and are able to pass halfway decent.  Too bad none of them can properly run a half
court offense or a fast break for that matter.  All he needs to do now is get Allen Iverson or
Larry Hughes and everything will be set.  He’s assembled a bad mix of selfish, overpaid players
who are more concerned about their own offense than winning anything.  And to make matters
worse, by bringing so may bad attitude guys, he’s risking poisoning the minds of his younger
players.  Francis was specifically shipped out of Orlando because they didn’t want Dwight
Howard learning how to be a putting crybaby from him.  Marbury has gotten himself run out of
town three times already, while Francis is on his third team now.  And Jalen Rose has worn four
different uniforms before coming to New York.  How on earth do you come to the conclusion that
three guys who have never played well with others will suddenly play well with each other if you
put them on the same team?  Does Isaiah plan on revolutionizing the game by convincing David
Stern to let them use more than one ball, or by making shot attempts count for points too?  
Maybe they can outlaw defense while they’re at it.  That’s about the only way I can see these
guys coexisting for more than a few games.  

This, my friends, is why owners should refrain from certain players to work for them after they’re
done playing.  Most Hall of Famers like Isaiah, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and even Michael
Jordan suffer from the same disease.  They refuse to work their way up through an organization
and actually, you know, learn how to do the job.  Every last one of them has started out as
either the head coach or the top executive without ever having to work as a scout or assistant
coach or assistant GM.  And it seems that only Bird has managed to avoid making an ass out of
himself.  They need to follow the example of a Hall of Famer from a different era, Jerry West.  
West didn’t go to the owner and demand to be plugged in at the top of the organization; he
worked his way up and earned his job as GM.  And as we all know, that worked out pretty well.  
But West was from a different era; top level ballplayers now are big celebrities with an army of
sycophants telling them how much they deserve because of who they are.  As a result, the idea
of having to sacrifice for anything other than what they achieved on the court isn’t one that
surfaces much.  And the results speak for themselves.  Jordan traded for Jerry Stackhouse,
came back to play, and drafted Kwame Brown.  In over ten years on the job McHale has drafted
no one of any consequence other than Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak, and also forfeited
four draft picks by offering a secret contract to Joe Smith (Why him, Kevin?  Was Chris Gatling
unavailable?).  Bird hasn’t screwed up too badly just yet, but he has a longtime GM at his side
to help (the same way he had Rick Carlisle at his side when he was the head coach).  Bill
Russell was a disaster as a GM as well.  But none has done as poorly as Isaiah.  He needs to
go now, before I and thousands of other fed up Knick fans decide to march to New York with
pitchforks and torches to run him out of town.