In Dave D’Alessandro, the Newark Star-Ledger has a literate, savvy and often very funny reporter who, in addition to all that good stuff, also looks kind of like “Booger” from Revenge of the Nerds. While they use him to cover the Nets, The Sporting News — in a four-part series on professional sports’ worst franchises — borrow his knife skills to do some fillet work on the Knicks. As his regular readers might expect, his is the best of the bunch — for instance, he doesn’t just list ignominious dates in team history, as Matt Crossman does in his overview of the Orioles. As might also be expected, he gives the Knicks a pretty good going over. Beware of (notional) Q and (scathing) A format, below:
Q: (It’s in context, so I’ll paraphrase: “If they have the money for it, why not overpay for talent? And anyway, they’re not that terrible this season.”)
A: The point is, bad management always rips off the paying customer seated courtside or watching at home because that’s how companies compensate when profit erodes. Cablevision, whose chairman is viperlike plutocrat James Dolan, owns the team, and the company’s stock went from about $80 a share in the late 1990s to $10 a share a few years ago. Guess who paid the price? Subscribers, of course. Or consider the saps who’ve forked over as much as $2,500 per night over the past five years for a front-row seat. So, you ask why the Knicks are included in this salute to sports management folly? These guys have more than a half-decade of bad karma to burn off before we acknowledge that they’re “not all that bad.”
Q: (Again, in context: “Didn’t Scott Layden’s initial bad decisions, like the Allan Houston contract, precipitate a lot of this?”)
A: He had help. Things started going downhill in September 2000, when Garden prez Dave Checketts and coach Jeff Van Gundy prodded Layden into trading an unhappy Patrick Ewing. In return, the Knicks got Glen Rice, Travis Knight and Luc Longley, whose contracts totaled almost $80 million. If they had just let Ewing play out his final season, his $14 million could have been lifted off the cap, and they’d have been able to rebuild the right way. Instead, the explosion began, and it always followed the same stupid pattern, like trading Rice’s $36 million deal and getting back Shandon Anderson ($42M) and Howard Eisley ($41M).
Q: Where was Dolan in all this?
A: Writing checks. Sometimes he wrote them just for the hell of it, such as the time he gave Don Chaney an extension when the team had an 11-27 record.
Q: And then Dolan hired Isiah Thomas.
A: Funny thing about that: The day he was hired, Thomas said, “I can’t think of an organization that has been saddled with this kind of debt structure.” He actually has made Layden look thrifty.
Q: But at least it’s never dull in NYC.
A: Actually, it has become the place to leave. In February ’04, with Cablevision tanking, Madison Square Garden laid off 80 employees. Since Zeke has taken over, he personally has run off three head coaches, Willis Reed, Marv Albert, a senior VP who sued Isiah for sexual harassment, a P.R. director, a dozen middle-management types and the dance team founder.
Q: That’s not good.
A: Most of them refer to MSG as the Evil Empire.
Despite the aforementioned “viperlike plutocrat”‘s brutal mismanagement and those amazing personnel moves (I had forgotten just how miserable that Ewing deal was: it’s stunning), TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott points out that the Knicks are still the NBA’s most valuable property.