In his introductory news conference in New York in 2014, Phil Jackson said, "I take the task of delivering a winning team to our fans seriously." Well, whatever he's done so far hasn't worked. The Knicks sport one of the worst records in the NBA and are in the midst of another rebuild. It's an all-too-familiar refrain: Someone is struggling to keep a promise to save the Knicks. In fairness, it's too soon to judge Jackson, but if he doesn't turn things around, he will be the latest in a long line of false prophets hired by owner James Dolan over the past decade.

By Ian Begley, Illustrations by Van Orton Design


In his introductory news conference in New York in 2014, Phil Jackson said, "I take the task of delivering a winning team to our fans seriously." Well, whatever he's done so far hasn't worked. The Knicks sport one of the worst records in the NBA and are in the midst of another rebuild. It's an all-too-familiar refrain: Someone is struggling to keep a promise to save the Knicks. In fairness, it's too soon to judge Jackson, but if he doesn't turn things around, he will be the latest in a long line of false prophets hired by owner James Dolan over the past decade.

By Ian Begley Illustrations by Van Orton Design








Isiah Thomas was tasked with turning around a team that had one of the league's highest payrolls and little to show for it. Under Scott Layden, Thomas' predecessor, the Knicks had missed the playoffs the previous two years.

"I think that anybody who looks at that cap situation, the first thing they say is, 'You can't fix it. You can't do this,'" Thomas said on the day he was hired as team president in late December 2003.

"My only goal is to win an NBA championship. Anything else is a failure."

By that measure, the Thomas era was filled with failure. The Knicks made the playoffs just once in Thomas' five years running the team, which included a 56-108 mark with Thomas as coach.

Including the $30 million contract handed to Jerome James, the ill-fated trade for Eddy Curry and the embarrassing feud with prodigal son Stephon Marbury, the Thomas era was fraught with misspent money and troublesome off-court incidents. A jury in federal district court in Manhattan ruled that former Garden executive Anucha Browne Sanders was entitled to $11.6 million in punitive damages from the Garden and James Dolan after winning a sexual harassment lawsuit that alleged Thomas harassed her. On the day he fired Thomas as coach, then-GM and president Donnie Walsh said:

"I can't really tell you where he failed with the club. I think that we reached a point this season when our team didn't compete for a long time. ... It's very difficult to be the coach and general manager. Maybe it was too much."



Isiah Thomas' first major move was to acquire Coney Island-bred point guard Stephon Marbury via trade. At the time, the Marbury trade was hailed as a franchise-altering transaction.

"Our goal is to win an NBA championship, and our goal is to put together a team that can do that," Thomas said shortly after the trade. "If you're going to win a championship, you need talent."

"It's definitely a home run hit by Isiah," then-Knicks coach Don Chaney said.

The home run quickly morphed into a series of errors that embarrassed the franchise.

Marbury, who had signed a four-year, $76 million extension before the trade, led the Knicks to zero playoff wins in five seasons. He openly feuded with three coaches and played a prominent role in Madison Square Garden being found liable in the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment suit. According to reports at the time, both James Dolan and Thomas felt that Marbury's testimony was damaging to their case.

Marbury did plenty of damage to the Knicks brand on the court as well. New York suffered through two seasons of 59 losses with Marbury on the roster. He butted heads with Larry Brown during Brown's one 23-win season as Knicks coach. Marbury also reportedly made a threat of extortion to Thomas and refused to play for Mike D'Antoni.

"It seems like he and I go through this every November," Thomas said after Marbury left the team following one blowup. "Then a couple of weeks go by and we kind of kiss and make up. Then we go back to the business of trying to win basketball games.''

The Marbury era ended in ugly fashion when the team agreed to release the point guard following hearings between the players' association, Knicks officials and a league arbiter.

"We need to separate from the relationship," Marbury said in his final season in New York. "The marriage is over. It's a done deal."

Of D'Antoni, Marbury added: "I wouldn't trust him to walk my dog across the street."



Larry Brown received a hero's welcome during his introductory news conference in the summer of 2005. Madison Square Garden's famous marquee featured a message that read, "Welcome Home Larry," to mark what the team hoped would be a new era for the Knicks.

"I know this will be my last stop," the vagabond coach said that day. "Basketball started for me in this city, and I want to be here when it's finally time for me to stop. Because I love it, and I want to be a part of it."

Added Isiah Thomas, who was president of the Knicks at the time: "Larry Brown is not just one of the best coaches in the NBA today but in its history. He has made every team he has ever coached a winner, with a legendary approach to teaching and motivating his players."

After all that beautiful rhetoric, the Brown era blew up rather quickly. He publicly critiqued his players -- a Garden no-no -- and quickly fell out of favor with James Dolan and Thomas.

Brown seemed to save his most famous criticisms for Stephon Marbury, who complained that Brown's offense was too restrictive. Brown once said amid a feud with the point guard: "So you're the best guard in the league and the team is 17-45. Yeah, it's the coach's fault."

Predictably, Brown's Knicks tenure quickly devolved into another he-said/he-said drama, with the coach being let go in his first offseason with the team.

One of the few things memorable about the Brown era was the sum he earned from the Knicks. He coached for just one season of his five-year, $50 million pact but was awarded $18.5 million in a settlement with the team that was brokered by then-NBA commissioner David Stern.

"I'm disappointed. I love this franchise, but I didn't do what I was paid to do," Brown said after his firing. "I didn't do the job. ... I mean, I won 23 games."



After years of comical ineptitude, the Knicks seemed to get it right when they hired the level-headed Donnie Walsh, a Pacers exec by way of Fordham Prep in the Bronx.

"I'm not the great new hope. I'm just a guy who's going to come in and try to create a team." Walsh said the day he was hired in April 2008. "And it's not going to happen overnight, so I don't want any illusions. But I think it has to get better right away. I think the people in this city that are paying money to go to games, they've got to see a competitive team."

Walsh seemed to have the Knicks headed in the right direction, but ultimately this was just another example of a hometown hero undone by the meddling of James Dolan. (Dolan, by the way, is a common denominator here.)

The veteran NBA exec went about tearing down the Knicks' roster, dealing away the likes of Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford to create enough cap space to make a run at LeBron James in free agency in 2010. The Knicks struck out on LeBron and ended up with Amar'e Stoudemire as a consolation prize, but Walsh had them in position to sign Carmelo Anthony as a free agent in the summer of 2011. Instead of waiting to pursue Anthony in free agency, Dolan panicked at the trade deadline and, operating over Walsh's head, agreed to a blockbuster three-team trade that landed Anthony in New York in exchange for a number of assets. Allegedly angry over Dolan's meddling, Walsh walked away from the Knicks job in the offseason following the Anthony trade.

"It took me a lot of energy the last three years to do this, and I'm running out of energy," Walsh said upon announcing his resignation. "I've already given everything I've got up to this point, and I don't know how much more I've got left."



Donnie Walsh's first big hire was to bring in Mike D'Antoni as head coach. D'Antoni brought with him a stellar résumé from his days with the Phoenix Suns and a big-money contract (four years, $28 million). He thought he could turn around a Knicks team that won just 29 games the season prior.

"I look at the roster, and that's the roster I'm going to win with," D'Antoni said on the day he was hired. "My focus is to win this coming year."

D'Antoni was viewed as a coach who could help the Knicks attract stars in free agency due in part to his relationships with big-name players as a coach for USA Basketball. But New York mostly struck out in free agency, and D'Antoni's up-tempo approach didn't lead to much success. The Knicks, in fact, did not win a playoff game under D'Antoni. Their best shot at contention under him seemed to be the lockout season of 2011-12. At least, D'Antoni thought so.

"If you have a center [Tyson Chandler] from the defending champions on your team that's 28 years old and is playing the best basketball he's ever played and you've got two superstars in [Carmelo Anthony] and [Amar'e Stoudemire], obviously you've got to compete for a championship," D'Antoni said on the eve of the season.

But things quickly fell apart for New York. Aside from the ascension of Jeremy Lin, little went right for D'Antoni. He clashed with Anthony amid the Knicks' struggles and ultimately walked away from the job in March, replaced by then-interim coach Mike Woodson. Knicks management tried to downplay the rift between D'Antoni and Anthony at the time.

"It wasn't just Carmelo," Glen Grunwald said the day D'Antoni resigned. "I think it was our whole team not playing up to where we thought they could be. ... Maybe there needs to be a new approach and look at it."



Stoudemire wasn't the player the Knicks were hoping to land when they cleared a ton of cap space leading up to the 2010 offseason. LeBron James was the top prize. But once James took his talents to Miami, Donnie Walsh & Co. settled on Stoudemire.

"The Knicks are back," Stoudemire said on the say he was introduced as a Knick.

For a while, Stoudemire's prediction rang true. He was playing like an MVP in his first three months in New York, leading the young Knicks to a surprising revival.

But Stoudemire's oft-injured knees started to flare up. And he never seemed to adjust to his status as a secondary attraction once Carmelo Anthony came to town. Stoudemire played in just 76 of a possible 148 games between 2011-12 and 2012-13 due to different knee issues. He had three surgeries over that span. The entire league knew about Stoudemire's history of knee injuries prior to the summer of 2010 (the Suns, Stoudemire's former team, wouldn't give him a max deal because of it), but the Knicks decided to take a chance and got burned. Now, Stoudemire is battling knee soreness again this season and may be bought out of the final year of his five-year, $100 million pact.

"It's a very difficult situation at this point," Stoudemire told reporters after practice in January. "It's a hard decision for me to make. My loyalty has always been with New York and the Knicks.

"So it will be tough right now to make a decision as far as going somewhere else at this point. It's something I have to think about."



Anthony took the court on Feb. 23, 2011, to a hero's welcome, with Diddy's "I'm Coming Home" blaring over the Madison Square Garden speakers.

"I think New York needed a moment like this," Anthony said the night that he played his first game as a Knick. "It's a dream come true for me, and I'm ready to rock."

The dream ending has eluded Anthony. In his four seasons with the Knicks, they have won just one playoff series. They have gone a combined 151-153 (as of Feb. 2) since the Anthony trade. The organization has been through three coaches, three general managers and two team presidents since Anthony arrived. It's not exactly the kind of stability -- or success -- many envisioned when Anthony came aboard.

Hope sprung anew when Phil Jackson signed Anthony to a five-year, $124 million contract over the summer. But with the Knicks in the midst of another embarrassing campaign, Anthony seems prepared to undergo surgery on his left knee following the All-Star Game, which will be held at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

"I feel what the fans are feeling," Anthony said after a Christmas Day loss to the Washington Wizards. "The fans are dying; we're dying. We're out there, we're not producing. We didn't expect, I didn't expect it."

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