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Firing Isiah Thomas Will Not Make the Sun Shine on the Knicks

Man, that Knick game last night really got a lot of people talking. All of a sudden, they are just the topic.

I sense that among Knick fans, people are desperate for change, any change at all.

As it happens, Isiah Thomas is both the architect of this miserable roster, and the only piece of the James Dolan/Isiah Thomas/Stephon Marbury puzzle that is really severable from the larger whole in a timely fashion.

The New York media is writing the story like it is a certainty that Thomas will soon be gone, saying things like (this from Frank Isola of the New York Daily News): "It is hard to imagine that Thomas will survive much longer."

ESPN's Chris Sheridan wonders if Thomas might even want to be fired:

Taking it all in with a pronounced frown on his face was owner Jim Dolan, who marched straight into Isiah Thomas' office after the game and either did not have the guts, the will or the good sense to do the right thing and fire his head coach and president.

There was such a palpable level of tension in the hallway beneath the stands, you half-expected Isiah to walk out of his office with a pink slip in his hand -- especially after watching Dolan slump and slouch through one of the most humiliating nights his team has ever had in its own building. But Thomas instead walked down the hallway with his head still held high, made his way through the back corridor to the interview room and placed the blame for this latest loss squarely on his own shoulders.

"You never want to see this kind of display of basketball. That's on me -- on my desk," he said, sounding ever more like a man who might actually want to be fired.

Thomas shot a sharp look at a Knicks PR official when he cut off the interview, then stopped as he got up and made sure everyone heard him one last time: "That was not the players' fault. This one is on me tonight."

But help me through this. Let's do a little thought exercise.

Imagine. Isiah Thomas is gone. Umm ... are the Knicks good now?

I am not going to tell you that he is not part of the problem.

I'm just trying to think a few more steps ahead. What's it going to take to make this team win? I'm certain that the answer is not on the sidelines, but in the front office, where somebody needs to shake this organization right down its core. I have no idea who it might be (Glen Grunwald? Donnie Walsh? Jerry Colangelo?) but someone needs to map out a long-term plan to fix the culture of this sick organization. It'll mean wholesale roster changes and a radically different approach to the game of basketball.

Dumping Isiah Thomas might be a small part of that process. But splitting up with your coach and your GM is not like splitting up with your high school girlfriend. The playoffs are not a dance you can attend stag. You need both, and they both need to be extremely good in this highly competitive environment.

Who comes next matters a lot more than when Isiah Thomas's run ends.

The road to a good Knicks team starts with making the correct difficult decisions about how to handle all these massive salaries. Someone needs to make the magic list of who stays (I guess David Lee, Renaldo Balkman, Nate Robinson, maybe Eddy Curry), how you get rid of everyone else, and who you replace them with. And then someone has to have the skill and owner support to make those changes.

And that process will almost certainly take a couple of years, and it will almost certainly result in a young team.

The right coach, the coach who'll be on the sidelines when the Knicks are next great, will probably arrive on the scene after most of that bloodletting has taken place.

My point being: if you could wave a magic wand and replace Isiah Thomas with any coach in the league, I doubt you would have fixed much. Larry Brown couldn't make it work. Isiah Thomas couldn't make it work. You really think [insert name here] (who -- who are you going to get? -- Jeff Van Gundy is the best big name out there, everyone gets all aflutter about Phil Jackson) is going to make Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and company into winners?

Fire Isiah or don't fire Isiah. What happens next week or next month isn't the key to the Knicks. What really matters is who's going to lead the hard work of anchoring an organization that has been adrift for some time.