December 22, 2003: Knicks fire Scott Layden and hire Isiah Thomas
The Scott Layden era finally came to an end on this date in Knicks history. In Layden’s 4.5 years with the organization, the Knicks went 175-181, but had a decreasing record each season and missed the playoffs in the previous two seasons to his firing.
June 23rd 2006: The New York Knicks fire Larry Brown
The New York Knicks fired Larry Brown, less than 1 year after signing a 5 year $50 million contract to coach the team. The team bottomed out to an embarrassing 23 wins amidst way more internal turmoil than victories.
The Larry Brown era was simply disastrous. The team gave Brown a $50 million to return home, less than 2 years after winning a championship with the Detroit Pistons. Brown privately lobbied to return home to New York while in the 2005 NBA Finals with the Detroit Pistons.
However, shortly into the regular season, Brown complained that the roster was not a fit for him. This wasn’t a new phenomenon with some of his previous stops. Brown would often bottom the team out as the front office eventually acquired players to fit into his offensive and defensive systems. The team would eventually turn around, win games and make the playoffs.
Unlike some of his previous stops, Brown publicly argued and embarrassed his players. The feuds embroiled the tabloids throughout the entire season. Stephon Marbury’s career was forever tarnished after the season. He even called sophomore Trevor Ariza “delusional.”
He came into odds with GM Isiah Thomas early on in the tenure. Brown wanted more veterans on the roster and Isiah stood pat only until the trade deadline. By that time, the Knicks were far out of the playoffs. Due to Brown’s requests, Isiah acquired Jalen Rose & traded Trevor Ariza for Steve Francis. The latter move was painful and short-sighted at the same time. Francis only lasted one more season with the Knicks while Ariza won a championship with the Lakers and remains a productive player in the NBA.
Near the end of the 2005-06 campaign, it looked like Brown publicly tried to sabotage the season. The 42 starting lineups was already strange, but Brown just embarrassed the Knicks organization with his public feuds. It left James Dolan with no choice but to fire Brown with 4 more years remaining on his contract. Fortunately, Dolan only had to pay Brown $18.5 million due to a settlement reached by both parties.
Brown has a reputation for leaving teams on a bad note. Like millennials today, Brown is quite nomadic in the coaching circles and organizations often got tired of his antics quickly.
After the firing, Dolan mandated Isiah Thomas to be the next head coach. He gave him the mandate to fix the team and show progress. For some crazy reason, Isiah got an extension in March 2007 and ended up coaching through the 2007-08 season before Donnie Walsh fired him.
The Knicks & Donnie Walsh officially end the Isiah Thomas era on this date. After helping the Knicks reach the playoffs in the 2003-04 season, the Knicks went on a downward spiral the previous 4 seasons, winning 33 games twice and 23 games twice. The Knicks were in salary cap hell with long-term contracts and below mediocre talent. The team also had plenty of off-court drama with 5 head coaches (including Isiah), infighting in the locker room, and a sexual harassment scandal that ultimately ruined Isiah & Stephon Marbury’s tenure with the organization.
The NBA forced Donnie Walsh onto the Knicks to help rebuild the team into a competent basketball organization. The team was simply an embarrassment in professional sports. A major step of rectification was to remove Isiah from the team. While Isiah was not around the organization, he still maintained a role as a consultant because he was due a large sum of money from his recent contract extension.
March 12th 2007: James Dolan gives Isiah Thomas a contract extension
After leading the Knicks to a 29-34 record and barely staying afloat at the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference, James Dolan surprisingly decided to give Isiah Thomas a multi-year contract extension. After the disastrous 2005-06 season that led to Larry Brown’s firing, Dolan gave Isiah Thomas an 1 year ultimatum to show “evident progress” otherwise he’d be fired. Somehow a 29-34 record was adequate enough.
In Knicksian fashion, the team won 4 of the remaining 19 games to fall well out of playoffs. Both Jamal Crawford & David Lee had their seasons end early due to injuries. The next season proved to be disastrous due to the verdict from the sexual harassment lawsuit and a very public feud with Stephon Marbury. The Knicks were deemed an “embarrassment” by David Stern. Stern coerced Dolan to hire Donnie Walsh and subsequently fired Isiah at the end of the season.