As ever, James Dolan revealed more about his own shortcomings as New York Knicks owner than most anything else in his first public interview since his team fired its 11th coach in two decades last week.
What was another strange peak into the billionaire owner’s mindset began with Dolan informing us that burgeoning Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, who will become eligible for a max contract extension this summer, may not return until the 2019-20 season from the left ACL tear he suffered in February.
“I’ve been told everything from December to him being out for the season, so I don’t know what to expect on that,” Dolan told the New York Post’s Larry Brooks this week. “But we can’t just sit on our ass while he’s away. We need to develop a team and then integrate him into it when he comes back.”
Initial projections pegged Porzingis’ return closer to 10 months. Missing the 7-foot-3 Latvian for a full year of what has already been an everlasting rebuild would be quite a blow for both his and the team’s development. That this wasn’t clearly the most eyebrow-raising statement of the discussion is a testament to the Knicks owner’s ability to firmly place his foot in his mouth every time he speaks.
The good news for Knicks fans is that Dolan seems to recognize how important Porzingis is to the franchise, telling Brooks, “I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.” This, of course, was something former team president Phil Jackson refused to acknowledge. So, congratulations to the Knicks owner for realizing something that was pretty apparent three years ago.
The bad news is that Dolan blamed everyone else but himself for Jackson’s hiring, via Brooks:
“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.
“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”
And there, my friends, is the crux of the issue surrounding the Knicks for two decades.
Dolan seems to admit here that outside influences impact his decisions, whether they be fans or media. (We’re not sure, since Jackson’s hiring came with healthy skepticism about the Hall of Fame coach’s lack of managerial experience.) This is unfathomable, considering Dolan’s lack of public awareness over the years — rehiring Isiah Thomas to run the WNBA’s New York Liberty after settling his sexual harassment lawsuit, emailing a Knicks fan to call him an alcoholic, allegedly ordering Knicks legend Charles Oakley dragged from Madison Square Garden, calling him an alcoholic, cussing out a Knicks season-ticket holder and likening his own Knicks ownership to “a living hell,” for example.
This time, though, with the hiring of a new coach to replace recently fired Jeff Hornacek, it’s going to be different, because Dolan knows what it takes now to really relate to the people, via Brooks again:
“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.
“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”
Let’s unravel that for a second, shall we? First of all, I would recommend against Hornacek asking the Knicks for a recommendation, because trashing someone to no end and then being like, But that kid’s really going places, is the true Dolan touch that makes every interview he grants a must-listen affair.
I also enjoy how Dolan determined Hornacek was “way behind” in terms of not grasping “how different the players are now,” and his current coaching search reportedly includes ex-Knicks coach Mike Woodson, former Knicks guard Mark Jackson and current TNT analyst Kenny Smith, all of whom have either a track record of running antiquated systems, no recent coaching experience or both. This after Dolan promoted Steve Mills to president after he presumably helped hire Hornacek as GM.
Maybe the reason we’ve heard about every candidate for the Knicks opening is because they want to find out how the New York market feels about each one, so they can nail the public relations part. But that can’t be the case, because James Dolan has learned from his mistakes. He swears it this time.
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