“Under ordinary circumstances,” writes the New York Times’ Howard Beck, “the 108-90 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been celebrated. But for the fans who are staging protests and practically begging for Coach Isiah Thomas™ dismissal, the victory was Pyrrhic. It meant that Thomas would surely last another day, and probably longer.” And as long as Zeke is team president, his successes and failures will reflect on an MSG executive the Daily News’ Frank Isola describes as “seething”.
Steve Mills, of course, is responsible for hiring both Thomas and Anucha Browne Sanders, who last week received an $11.5 million settlement in her sexual harassment case against Thomas and Madison Square Garden.
Mills has remained conspicuously silent on Thomas’ job status and has maintained a low profile since the trial ended. For years there has been talk of a power struggle between Thomas and Mills. In fact, a person close to Thomas said that the Knicks coach did not feel that Mills gave him enough public support in the months and weeks leading up to the trial.
However, Mills did give powerful testimony on the Garden’s behalf to undermine Browne Sanders’ credibility during the September trial. It was an emotional trial and verdict for Mills, whose family had been longtime friends with the plaintiff and her family. Browne Sanders told close associates that she was most disappointed in Mills’ conduct after she originally filed the lawsuit, as well as in his testimony.
Mills is in a tricky position because he evolved into Dolan’s right-hand man after Mills’ former boss, Dave Checketts, was forced out. Dolan, however, has grown close to Thomas, siding with him in his feud with Larry Brown and supporting him before, during and after the Browne Sanders trial.
Checketts hired Mills from the NBA league office, and Mills’ close ties with commissioner David Stern also create a unique dynamic.
The league encouraged Dolan to settle the Browne Sanders case out of court and Stern reportedly is trying to convince Dolan to revamp his front office and hire someone such as Jerry Colangelo, Jerry West, Donnie Walsh or Kiki Vandeweghe. Mills could be acting as the intermediary between Stern and Dolan.
A shakeup in the Knicks front office could spare Mills. But as long as Thomas continues to survive, Mills could be in danger. Thomas, of course, wasn’t Mills’ first choice to replace Scott Layden. Mills initially reached out to Magic Johnson, who turned down the job and advised Mills to talk to Thomas. Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of Thomas’ hiring.