The Ultimate Game of Devil’s Advocate

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It’s hard to even admit I thought there was enough substance behind this idea to formulate a full blog post. It was even harder to type it.

Sometimes you need to play devil’s advocate to gain a sense of objectivity and sometimes the results don’t exactly fall in line with your thinking. Sometimes playing devil’s advocate can provide some clarity, other times it can cloud the waters even more. When it comes to James Dolan, it’s the ultimate game of devil’s advocate.

I don’t need to run down the list of Dolan blunders over the years, you know them, and I’ll spare you the agony. Whether it’s shady business practices or even more questionable team management, Dolan has done himself no favors. He creates buzz, but not always positive. He creates noise, but not always cheers. He creates profit, but not always in the most favorable ways.

He’s taken a pounding because of his lack of answers to New York’s hundreds of questions. Other than his first row baseline seat for every Knick home game, he stays out of the spotlight. Can you blame him? He’s the punching bag for a team that has given its writers and fans every reason in the world to hang him up and practice their left hooks and right jabs.

But… what if he actually deserves some credit?

Let’s go back to February 2011. For weeks, the NBA fan base was unlucky enough to get caught up in the Melo-drama. It didn’t matter if you were a Warriors fan in Dallas originally from Minnesota, you knew all about what was happening with the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets. Leaks of potential trade offers led to reports of trades almost being completed which led to mass hysteria.

Then-GM Donnie Walsh seemed to be standing firm, not showing his hand and showed no signs of folding after every “Nuggets demand ____” and “Nets willing to trade ____” story leaked to the public. Donnie wasn’t giving up what he didn’t want to give up, and the added pressure of the Nets seemingly leading the charge for Carmelo Anthony didn’t faze him.

Then it happened. Everything Donnie Walsh seemingly stood for was crumpled up and tossed away. The Knicks gave up what seemed to be the farm for Carmelo Anthony. It reeked of James Dolan, and because Walsh would never ruffle feathers, he calmly spoke to the media and accepted full responsibility for the trade. How that played out behind closed doors, we will never know.

But on the surface, Dolan had undermined the man that saved the Knicks from the Isiah era and finally seemed to have New York basketball on the right track. He had given up the farm. Trade assets, gone. Youth, gone. Expiring contracts, gone.

Now fast forward to 2013… Carmelo Anthony can’t step up to the free throw line at MSG without being welcomed with a chorus of “MVP” chants. That depth? Completely restored with the reigning defensive player of the year, the point guard that fans didn’t want to part with back in February 2011, a second year defensive neophyte and a sixth man of the year candidate, just to name a few.

So if popular belief back in 2011 was that Dolan pushed to get the Carmelo Anthony deal done and in the process, crippled the Knicks for the future… does this mean you have to give him credit for the trade panning out? OK ok, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The 2011 off-season rolls around, Donnie Walsh’s contract runs out, and just like that, the man who resurrected a franchise that Dolan seemingly drove into the ground was cleaning out his office. Walsh chose not to accept Dolan’s two year offer, which translated to some as “Donnie is sick of Dolan”. Enter, Glen Grunwald. A former Indiana University basketball player and friends with the dev… I mean Isiah Thomas.

Pandemonium in the Garden!

Well, that’s it, Isiah is running things. Dolan got his way. Grunwald is just a puppet. Isiah will be in the boss’s ear and Grunwald will just sit, smile and nod. Fast forward again to 2013… we’ve lived through Linsanity, we’ve seen Grunwald’s biggest acquisition to date win the defensive player of the year award and now get selected to his first all-star team. Steve Novak became one of the most feared shooters in the league. JR Smith accepted way less than market value to stay here. Jason Kidd seemingly reneged on a handshake agreement with his old team to come join the Knicks.

So if in the summer of 2011 we cursed Dolan for passing up external candidates to bring in Isiah’s pal to seemingly give Isiah a voice within the organization… does this mean you have to give him credit for Grunwald making some fantastic moves to put the team in the position it’s in? Eh, dumb luck.

Now another year has passed and the Knicks were taken on one of the most Linsane rides you’ve ever seen in the history of professional sports. A worldwide phenomenon, a global movement as it seemed, all thanks to an unknown who was just about ready to give up on basketball. Linsanity took over New York. Jeremy Lin’s contract was up but it didn’t matter, there wasn’t a single way the Knicks were letting him go anywhere. NO WAY. Right? I mean, he gave the Knicks fans something to cheer about. He was “outplaying” Carmelo Anthony, Dolan’s pride and joy. He made you forget that Amar’e was seemingly broken.

Then the offer sheet is officially signed in Houston. Still no sweat, because Mike Woodson just met with Lin, Melo and Tyson out in California to talk about the season. We heard Raymond Felton was schmoozing with the boss at his 4th of July BBQ and all of a sudden doubt sets in. Then the Knicks acquire Raymond Felton…

Then Jeremy Lin was officially a Houston Rocket.

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Are you kidding me? Only the Knicks… seriously. We catch lightning in a bottle and then let it go! Dolan felt shown  up by Lin because he signed a higher poison pill contract than what was originally reported. He can’t have his ego bruised like that despite the fact Lin made him millions. And who is replacing him? Overweight Felton who stunk it up in Portland last year? Classic Knicks.

Now fast forward to 2013… Raymond Felton has become THE most important part of the Knicks offense. The difference when he’s on the floor compared to when he isn’t is indisputable. He’s limiting turnovers and creating for others. Without Felton, we may not be seeing this new and improved Melo. Meanwhile Jeremy Lin is having a decent season in Houston, but nowhere near what his contract number would dictate.

So if Dolan was blamed for Linsanity in New York coming to a screeching hault, do we have to give him credit for making what seems to be a good financial as well as basketball move? I really, really don’t like this game.

The rumors of Phil Jackson to the Knicks began long before the Knicks began looking for a new head coach. Mike Woodson was the interim head coach, he had a strong finish to the season… but he’s not Phil. It’s a no brainer really, Phil won a title here and even his wife said he’d love to have his career come full circle by ending up in NY. But the Knicks aren’t calling…

Then it trickles down, Mike Woodson is the new head coach of the Knicks for the next three years. Oh that’s cute, another Indiana basketball guy, another friend of Isiah. We know where this is going. The guy was run out of Atlanta, he had little postseason success, he’s criticized for running an iso-heavy offense and Melo isolation is just about the last thing we want to see.

Fast forward to 2013… Mike Woodson was a half game away from coaching the Eastern Conference All-Star team. The Knicks have their best record through this many games in god only knows how long. He has his team atop the division, right on the tails of the Heat at second place in the conference, he’s a coach of the year candidate and the players seem to be responding to him better than any coach in recent Knick history.

Look… I have Cablevision, I cringe every time I have to pay my bill because I know who is benefitting. I’ve cursed the guy more times than I can count. Season tickets have been in my family since 1993 and I know that every time I sit in my seat, James Dolan cracks a smile and counts the 80 bucks I just slipped into his pocket. I don’t like him, I don’t think many people do, and there is plenty of reason not to like him.

But if you truly believe that Dolan is the mastermind behind everything, the guy who undermined his GM because he craved star power, the guy who made personnel calls based on ego, the guy who deceived the fans into believing there was truly no fire where we saw smoke… then it’s only fair to admit he’s built a team that allows us to enjoy Knicks basketball again, whether he meant to or not.

Just playing devil’s advocate.

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