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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Teflon and the New York Knicks

Thanks, Sports Frog, for bringing this to light. Or for at least reminding me that this was something that I wanted to post about.

For years people raved about Teflon, the no-stick substance that's used to coat pans so that your food doesn't stick to them, making both your meals and the pans a mess. Teflon became such a popular term that it applied to a President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) and a mafia don (John Gotti) to describe the notion that while bad things could go on under those guys' auspices, they themselves didn't get into trouble for them. In the case of the former, the coating never wore off. In the case of the latter, it wore off big-time, so much so that the Dapper Don died in a maximum security prison where he was confined to his cell for 23 hours a day.

(I won't opine on the current state of play of Teflon, in that it's the subject of mass-tort litigation by those who claim that it's cancerous. I'm not familiar enough with the studies to know what's going on there, but the irony of it is that, whatever the verdicts will be, Teflon has lost its magical powers, at least metaphorically, and might need another DuPont product, Kevlar, to protect it. )

Which brings me to the New York Knicks. If you go to the Hoops Hype website, you'll note that by far they have the highest payroll in the NBA, and, but for injuries to Charlotte, would have the worst record in the NBA. If you run a sales department, you know that each year you have to make decisions as to who you should fire to improve performance in certain territories. Those decisions, while sometimes tough to make because you like the people, aren't as tough from a business standpoint because, as they say, the numbers don't lie. The same holds true in an operations function -- if the yields and gross margins aren't there, you'll probably make some changes.

In this fashion, it's easy to tell how management of sports teams are doing, as it is how the players are faring. You look at the won-lost record and you determine how well the front office is doing. There aren't many extenuating circumstances. It's just about the record.

Isiah Thomas has been with the Knicks since December 22, 2003. In defense of him, he hasn't been with the Knicks all that long (although one might argue than any tenure in the NBA over 18 months is a millenium, given that owners change coaches about as frequently as parents of infants change diapers). During his tenure (and I'll count the entire 2003-2004 season if only because I have no way of breaking it out), the Knicks are 85-131 (37-45 two seasons ago, 33-49 last year and 15-37 so far this year), and it looks like matters will get worse before they get better. The talk on WFAN out of New York shows no optimism, especially because while the Knicks' current record forecasts a top lottery pick, the Knicks traded that pick last year to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry deal.

Put simply, it's not going well for Thomas or for Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown, whose hiring was hailed by many as a palliative for the Knicks' ails. I, for one, wasn't as certain as to Coach Brown's healing powers, reminding people that his first name is Larry and not Merlin. While accountability for much of the Knicks' fate rests at the doorstep of ownership and Thomas, certain of it should be laid on Brown as well, especially because his penchant for not playing young players all that much, relatively speaking.

Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan. It's easy to pass out the victory cigars and thank everyone in the organization, like Bill Cowher did when the Steelers won the Super Bowl, whether everyone deserved the props or not. It's another thing to stay silent while a flagship franchise of the NBA is in disarray. Maybe there's something they are not telling us. Maybe there's a double secret reconstruction plan that has the Knicks back on top in another two and a half years. It could well be the case, but the current trends seem to cast a shadow on that type of optimism.

It's funny about brand names. In most sports, they rise and fall. You couldn't have had a better trademark than the Celtics in the 1960's or the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980's, but today those trademarks belie the grandeur that once was. The Knicks were once a team that fielded Clyde and the Pearl, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas and, of course, Willis Reed. Today most people can't name a player on the squad, save Stephon Marbury, who isn't exactly a brand enhancer. Yes, it can take decades to build a brand, but only several years of questionable decisions to tarnish it. The good news for NBA squads is that while trademarks ebb and flow, and they seldom go bust.

So far, Teflon has attached itself to both Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown. The guess here is that it, or whatever other substance becomes the protective coating of the era, will remain glued to Larry Brown until he decides to retire. Isiah Thomas, though, is a different story. How many trades can he make? How many pariahs can he add to his squad? Steve Francis was rumored to be coming to Manhattan, although that story has faded. Now the focus is on Darius Miles. Perhaps they'll even contact Orlando about acquiring Darko Milicic.

It's an interesting saga in New York, especially when juxtaposed to that of the Rangers, whom SI picked in the pre-season as the worst team in the NHL and who are having a great year. How long can Isiah Thomas be immune from the fates that befall people whose performance metrics are bad? And how much heat can he and the franchise take?

Kurtis Blow once rapped, "I used to go to dinner and take my girl. . . to see Tiny play against Earl the Pearl." Yes, those were the days. The only thing tiny now for the Knicks is their won-lost record, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Where are you, Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, now that the Knicks need you?


Blogger xtremecelticsfan said...

I have started a celtics blog an i put in a chat for people to come doring games an talk about whats goin on. An also for people to come in the chat anytime to talk about what needs to be done. SPREAD THE WORD!!!!!!!!

7:31 PM  

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