HoopsHype.com Behind the Beat

Frank Isola: "Isiah is a smooth operator"
by HoopsHype / February 9, 2007

How come David Lee isn't getting more shine. When the Knicks had all the suspensions, David was given more time and he produced. You think that Isiah would keep giving him as much time. But he hasn't. Why do you think this is?
Aaron Ray (Cobleskill, New York)

Frank Isola: I think it is obvious that Isiah can’t stand David Lee. (Just kidding). Isiah was smart enough to draft Lee and now he should be smart enough to make him a full-time starter. The only reason Jared Jeffries was starting over Lee is because Jeffries signed a $30 million contract during the offseason. And as you can tell, the Washington Wizards aren’t exactly struggling without him.

I believe that Isiah feels that Lee needs to improve his mid-range jump shot. He’s also a tweener and has trouble guarding some power forwards and small forwards. But when it comes to rebounding, he’s got that extra something that Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley, to name a few, also had; it’s called desire.

You take a lot of shots at the Knicks organization in your blog. When did the paranoia began in that franchise? And what's your personal opinion on owner James Dolan?

FI: Mr. Dolan is trying to run the Knicks like a corporation and feels it is the organization’s job to spin everything. Well, you can’t spin the record. At some point, you have to play the games. The Knicks want everyone to believe that they are on the same page and that things are looking better. That’s been their tired mission statement since Dolan replaced Dave Checketts. Well, guess what? They haven’t won a playoff game since Checketts left after the 2000-01 season. That’s all fans care about.

Everyone in the organization shouldn’t be getting along. Any time you are in an environment with smart, independent thinkers, not everyone is going to agree. Nor should they.

Under Dolan, the Knicks goal has been to win the media war instead of winning games. And they are losing on both fronts. But I’ll say this about the owner, he is willing to spend whatever it takes. Because of that, he should find the right people and let them do their jobs.

How much of NBA management (like the headquarters in New Jersey) are Knicks or Nets fans?
Ossman Makkaoui (Toronto, Canada)

FI: That’s a great question. Would you believe it if I said there is a strong contingent of Atlanta Hawks fans up here? I didn’t think so. I believe you will find a lot of frustrated fans of both the Knicks and Nets with more pulling for the Knicks. It’s funny, teams outside of New York believe the Knicks have an advantage because the league office is in their backyard while the Knicks are convinced they are at a disadvantage for the same reason. My feeling is that the Knicks have been at a disadvantage for the past six years because they haven’t been very good.

What do you think of Renaldo Balkman and the way Isiah has handled the drafts he's had?
Craig van Buren (Arkansas)

FI: Balkman is like the backup quarterback everybody wants to see play. He’s an exciting, high-energy player who needs to develop a better offensive game. It’s hard having both Lee and Balkman on the floor together because you don’t have enough shooting from two positions.

As for Isiah’s draft picks, I think he’s done a good job. Of course, he could have drafted Andrew Bynum over Channing Frye two years ago. In June, he could have taken Marcus Williams and still drafted Balkman. But he did get Lee with the last pick of the first round.

As a Knick beat writer, what would you never write about? Would you write about Jason Kidd's divorce if you were covering the Nets, for example?

FI: I’m of the opinion that too much was written about the Kidd family when they were still together. Enough already. But a divorce is public record and would have to be covered. As for players going out at night and things of that nature, I would never write about it – and you knew that was coming – unless they don’t show up for practice the next day or they happen to get arrested. Does the name Anthony Mason ring a bell?

Why has Stephon Marbury changed his attitude so much in the past few months? How much credit should Isiah Thomas get?

FI: Stephon has played much better and Isiah should get some credit for convincing his point guard to make Eddy Curry the focal point of the offense. Let’s see how long it lasts, however. Also, Marbury has a bad left knee that could play a factor down the stretch.

How's Isiah Thomas behind the scenes? Do you think that dark side they often talk about truly exists?

FI: We all have a dark side. Isiah’s is just more public than most. He’s an interesting guy because he’s very confident and full of bravado. He’s constantly reminding us that he grew up on Chicago’s tough West Side as if he has an inferiority complex about being a guy from out of town trying to make it in the big city. He can be charming and sensitive but he can turn nasty if provoked.

A few years ago, he accused me of trying to get the Knicks to release Shandon Anderson so that Jeff Van Gundy could sign him in Houston. (This all goes back to the Knicks institutionalized paranoia and Dolan’s obsession with a great coach that he wanted to fire.) When Isiah confronted me, my first reaction was, “I didn’t know I had this much juice.” I then said, "Correct me if I’m wrong, I thought you want to cut Shandon.”

But Isiah told me to get away from him before he does something he might regret. I was about to tell him that I get Karl Malone to kick his ass, but I didn’t think he would appreciate my sense of humor.

Anyway, I feel I have a good relationship with him. I think he wants to be closer to the media but the Knicks require that public relations official stand next to Isiah at all times and record everything he says. It is rather bizarre. I’m sure Isiah hates those working conditions. But he’s a smooth operator. He is comfortable around young players from the ‘hood and hot shot executives in the boardroom.

What’s the biggest difference in covering the 2005-06 Knickerbockers and 2006-07 Knickerbockers with respect to the coaches?
Maurice A. Edwards (Chicago, Illinois)

FI: Larry Brown had a better sense of humor and said what he said without worrying about how it might be received by Dolan and the front office. The Knicks knew what they were getting into when they hired Larry and then acted surprised when it all played out the way we all thought it would. Last season, was more of a soap opera with Larry and Stephon boing back and forth. And who knows what Isiah was doing to fuel the fire from the background.

Because of Larry’s firing and that some of the comments he made were used against him, Isiah is careful not to criticize. He can be bland when talking on the record. And he doesn’t have much time to speak off the record because Big Brother is always listening.

Do you think that the league and the fans are coming down unneccessarily hard on New York? As a Knick fan, I can't help but notice that the Knicks are covered less, analyzed negatively and altogether disliked by the league and fans. How much can this hurt the young talented group that they have?

FI: I believe the league wants the Knicks in the playoffs because it's good to have a team that everybody loves to hate. Even when the Knicks were winning, there does tend to be more drama surrounding the team. But it says a lot about that the Knicks that even when they were a train wreck last season, people paid attention.

Also, I think some perceive the Knicks management, players, coaches and yes, even the media, to have that New York arrogance.

I don’t know where they would get them from. They should just accept the fact that we’re better.

Any explanation as to why there's absolutely no talk about the Anucha Browne Sanders case?
Jim Chase (Pensacola, Florida)

FI: You knew that one guy had to ruin everything by mentioning Anucha.

At some point the case will go to trial… Unless they settle out of court first. I have no inside knowledge of what happened behind the scenes but I do know this; Anucha was a very ambitious person just like Isiah. I had a feeling that they would clash.

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