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Coaching the Knicks is turning into a career liability

Anyone considering the latest NBA opening should think long and hard about joining the organization

I have always been a Knicks fan. I was born in Harlem, and although I moved from Harlem to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when I was young, I spent every summer in Harlem. My grandfather was a die-hard Knicks fan. He loved his Yankees and Giants, along with St. John’s and Syracuse. He was a typical emotional New Yorker. Tuned in to every game, yelled at the screen, called the players bums when they didn’t play well, respected guys who played hard and always sported a Yankees cap. As a result, I too became a fan of all things New York, including the Knicks.

I had my Patrick Ewing jersey, was throwing up the LJ sign like Larry Johnson, admiring hard fouls by Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason and their “no easy buckets” mentality; respecting Greg Anthony having his teammates’ back, running from the stands in street clothes. Everyone played with emotion. Those were the glory days of my youth as a young New York Knicks fan.

Which is why it hurts to witness the lowly, sad, pitiful, embarrassing state the entire Knicks organization has been stuck in for some time now. It’s been one catastrophe after another. From Oakley being accosted on live TV during a game by Knicks security, the utter disrespect of Carmelo Anthony by president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, the letdown from not receiving the No. 1 pick and missing out on Zion Williamson to now, the firing of coach David Fizdale after tying the worst start in the team’s history at 4-18, making Fizdale the eighth coach to be fired by the Knicks since 2004 (not including interim coaches).

I’m not a Knicks hater. I want to see my childhood team thrive. It would be wonderful if the success the NBA is experiencing with big-time free agents pairing together to create excitement in their respective cities could run through the Knicks as well. But with the current state of the Knicks, I am starting to wonder if I will ever see this team succeed. But it’s not the coaches. They’ve tried that, and it hasn’t worked.

Doug McDermott (center) of the Indiana Pacers drives to the basket and dunks the ball against the New York Knicks on Dec. 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

This is around the time I would begin my campaign for the Knicks to hire former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson. He laid the foundation for the success the Warriors enjoyed, winning three championships in the last four years. However, I can’t in good faith recommend he coach the Knicks. He’s better off remaining in the broadcast sports analysts’ booth with Jeff Van Gundy.

Similarly, Patrick Ewing, who I believe has been disrespected by the Knicks time and time again, should be coaching in the NBA. But again, I can’t in good faith recommend he leave Georgetown. Ewing is rebuilding his alma mater’s team and has a tremendous coaching staff, even as the school navigates controversy around his players, including two who are transferring. Ewing has a level of respect and security at Georgetown that he surely won’t receive with the Knicks.

New York City native and two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith also has emerged as a top candidate. He has a wealth of basketball knowledge that is displayed on Inside The NBA with TNT. But again, I couldn’t recommend him leaving the studio where he is part of a show that has become must-see TV for all NBA fans.

Then there’s San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, who has the chance to make history and become the first female head coach in the NBA. She’s ready to spread her wings and fly on her own after 16 seasons in the WNBA and six years as an assistant with the Spurs. But again, I wouldn’t want her to take on this challenge. It would do nothing more than set the stage for all the blame to be put on her if things don’t go well.

How does an organization get so bad that it is more of a liability than an opportunity?

Some say the problem lies squarely with James Dolan, who is in his 20th year as CEO of the Knicks (I don’t use the word owner). Many say that he doesn’t care about the team and is perfectly complacent being that he has secured such a lucrative deal with Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t matter if the team loses every single game, he still wins. Forbes valued the Knicks at $4 billion. The fact is, Dolan made both himself and his investors a lot of money.

There have been “Fire Dolan” chants that have erupted at the Garden, and footage of a run-in that Dolan had with a fan while exiting the arena who screamed for him to “Sell The Team!”

Others say it’s not Dolan’s fault at all and that he is a great person who cares about the community and respects the tradition of the Knicks like no other CEO does.

Former Knicks forward John Wallace recently shared that sentiment with me.

“Dolan has done more for former Knicks than any other NBA team does for their former players,” he said. “He’s also done a lot for pancreatic cancer, and he’s written every check that’s been asked of him. Dolan hired people who were supposed to get the Knicks to the championship and it didn’t happen. Phil Jackson left us in purgatory and when Dolan hired him, everybody, myself included, thought Phil was the answer. So is it Dolan’s fault for Phil Jackson’s wrongdoing?”

Fair point.

It’s not just Dolan. Many have pointed to Knicks team president Steve Mills as the main culprit for causing the Knicks’ woes.

A report in Newsday last month suggested that Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri may have interest in taking on the task of bringing his Midas touch to the Knicks.

You’ll have to excuse my pessimism, but I’m not going to allow them to toy with my emotions yet again.

Let’s be realistic. Why would Ujiri leave Toronto? He brought them a championship. Seems like he has the key to the organization and the city.

Former Knicks guard and current co-host of The Knuckleheads podcast Quentin Richardson told me he doesn’t see the issue as Dolan or Mills, whose record is 167-349 in his time with the team.

“I personally don’t blame it solely on Mills or Dolan. A big part of this whole problem is that for whatever reason, the top-flight free-agent guys don’t wanna go there,” Richardson said. “My take on it is that they have been down for so long that the top guys look at it like if they go there, it’s all on them to bring the title to New York. And from the results, it’s obvious guys would much rather bypass on all that comes with playing for the Knicks.

“Yes, the microscope is there, the spotlight on and off the court and the never-ending media too. The part I feel guys are missing is that if they do go to the Knicks, it’s not just about winning a title. If you go and give those fans in that city all you got and they know you’re laying all you got on the line night in and night out, they will respect you forever! Now, if you do that and win, you’re a made man, period. If you go win with the Knicks, that will be the biggest thing in forever for that city, so that player who is the guy responsible will be MADE.”

Another great point.

But the truth is, Knicks fans are sick of excuses and hearing the multiple reasons that the Knicks aren’t good. We’re tired of rebuilding processes. Fed up with waiting, hoping, wishing, praying for better days. At this point, Knicks fans are not even asking for a return to greatness but at least respectability.

New York is a special place and die-hard New York fans wear our hearts on our sleeves. Don’t believe me? Go up to anyone on the street in New York and ask them what they think of the New York Knicks and you’re sure to receive a long-winded emotional diatribe of frustration, anger, sadness, and more frustration.

Bottom line, whatever is going to happen needs to happen soon. New York is tired of waiting and deserves much better.

Etan Thomas, writes for The Guardian and has previously written for The Washington Post, Huffington Post, CNN, ESPN, Hoopshype.com and slamonline. He frequently can be seen on MSNBC as a special correspondent for “hot topics.” He continues to be invited on syndicated radio and co-hosts a weekly local radio show on WPFW 89.3FM, The Collision, where sports and politics collide.