Thu, Mar 10, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Scrutiny surprises NY's Isiah Thomas

AMERICAN BASKETBALL When you become manager of the Yankees, coach the Giants or president of the Knicks, you've essentially agreed to walk against traffic

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORKAP, PHILADELPHIAREUTERS, SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA

Kobe Bryant, left, of the Lakers, drives to the basket past Chris Wilcox of the Clippers in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AP

Isiah Thomas admitted he was caught off guard by the fusillade of criticism he received for his maneuvers at last month's trade deadline.

I was surprised Thomas was surprised. How many times had he come to Madison Square Garden during his 13-year career with Detroit? You would think he would have been used to the scrutiny of the omnipresent news media.

On second thought, it is one thing to breeze in and out of New York, and it is something else to work here and be in control of a team that sophisticated New Yorkers cherish: the Knicks.

He was called stupid; one of the players he acquired was called a bum. There were predictions that after only 14 months as president of basketball operations, Thomas was in trouble.

"I was surprised because I didn't understand where it came from and why it came," Thomas said on Tuesday. "You'd think that I had traded Patrick Ewing, or somebody."

These were no blockbuster deals. The Knicks traded Nazr Mohammed for Malik Rose, Maurice Taylor and two first-round draft picks. They traded Vin Baker, who was not playing; Moochie Norris, who was not playing; and Jamison Brewer, who was not playing.

From the reaction of the critics, you would think the Knicks had players other teams wanted and simply chose to hoard them. The problem these last few seasons is that the Knicks have plenty of nothing.

Now they have a little something. After Tuesday night's 93-83 victory over the Wizards, the team is 5-1 since the trade deadline. It has also won seven straight at home.

"When I came here last December, my job was to fix the toughest job in sports," Thomas said. "Our fans who come to the games every single night understand what's going on in our building and they see the difference."

Thomas may not be doing as great a job as he thinks, but he is certainly not doing it as miserably as critics suggest.

He took the job in December 2003 after being fired as head coach of the Indiana Pacers by Larry Bird. His selection was immediately criticized. The criticism was so scathing that James L. Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, asked Thomas if he was up to the task.

"He said, `Can you do this?'" Thomas said. "I said, `Yeah.' The only thing I want is time to fix it, because it's going to take a long time to fix it, because it took a long time for you to get here, so don't think it's going to magically turn around."

Dolan gave Thomas a seven-year deal. Given the events unfolding at Madison Square Garden, that is an eternity. What the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and even Dolan will look like in seven years is anyone's guess. Dolan is battling powerful forces -- including his father -- over a series of issues that include Cablevision, a possible West Side stadium and Time Warner, which is currently not showing Knicks games.

"He's done a good job of insulating the team from what is going on with the cable company; those are entirely different things," Thomas said of Dolan. "The Knicks are one thing, what happens with cable is another. Although they own it all, it hasn't affected our business at all."

Jason Richardson scored 22 points and Mike Dunleavy added 21 Tuesday to lead the Golden State Warriors to just their eighth road win of the season with a 104-85 victory over the tired Philadelphia 76ers.

Troy Murphy scored 17 points and Mickael Pietrus had 14 for the Warriors, who are in last place in the Pacific Division.

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