James L. Dolan is not a very complicated man. He was born into an immensely wealthy family, and was thrust into his father’s Cablevision company. In his youth he struggled with drugs and alcohol problems, which led to him being sent to a rehab facility where he got clean in 1993. Some may call it nepotism that his father handed him over the reigns to MSG after Cablevision bought it, or maybe he was actually qualified. In 1999, Dolan became Chairman of Madison Square Garden.
Dolan has had limited success as the owner of both the Rangers and the Knicks. The Knicks have not won a playoff series since 2001, and have not won a playoff game since 2003 (until this season). Dolan oversaw the coming and going of several high profile name coaches including Larry Brown, Jeff Van Gundy, and Lenny Wilkens. There was one coach in particular that was bad news for the Knicks: Dolan’s good pal, Isiah Thomas.
Thomas had been a Hall of Fame Point Guard in his days with Detroit. After retiring from playing, Thomas had some success as the coach of the Indiana Pacers, but was ultimately fired due to lack of experience as a coach. In 2003, Thomas was hired as the President of Basketball Operations of the Knicks.
As the head of the front office, Isiah made poor decisions including trading away draft picks, signing players to ridiculous contracts (Jerome James anyone?), and having a team with the highest payroll and second lowest win total. It is also to be noted that Thomas brought controversy to the team when he was charged with a sexual misconduct lawsuit. Dolan of course extended Thomas’ contract even while the Knicks were playing mediocre.
Dolan made what may be the best decision of his career when he hired Donnie Walsh to replace Thomas as President of Basketball Operations. Walsh came in and cleared out the bad contracts Thomas had created, and fired Thomas replacing him with Mike D’Antoni. It is rumored that Dolan’s friendship with Thomas remained, and that Thomas was secretly running the show behind closed doors.
Walsh lost out on LeBron James, but still ended up with a winning team including young talent like Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Danilo Galinari, and Timofey Mozgov. At this time, the Carmelo Anthony rumors began, and that his preferred destination was New York. Walsh did not want to give up too much for ‘Melo knowing that he could sign him in the offseason, but Dolan demanded that the trade be executed, and he went above Walsh’s head in order to give away more talent.
Walsh did not like that he did not have autonomy over the team, and Dolan could not come to terms with a new contract, so Walsh was replaced with Glen Grunwald. Grunwald is credited with seeing Jeremy Lin’s potential after he was released from Houston. Lin blew up on to the scene with Linsanity in February. His contract would be up at the end of the season, and everyone and their brother assumed that Lin’s contract would be matched no matter what.
That was not the case. After Houston offered Lin a large back-ended offer for three years of service, Dolan was allowed three days to decide if he should match it. After a free agency that including paying big money for Camby, Kidd, and Felton, it seemed like the Knicks did not worry about luxury taxes and cap room. It seemed wrong, because Dolan decided not to match Lin’s deal–letting one of the most famous athletes on the planet walk away from one of the most famous teams.
Avoiding that contract may have been the smart thing to do, and I believe it may end of being a wise move by Dolan, but that doesn’t matter to Lin’s fanbase. Dolan can’t win, and people are mad at him for taking away their beloved star.
While Dolan may be one of the more wealthy owners willing to dig deep into his pockets in order to have his team win, he also may be one of the most involved in a business that he knows nothing about. Dolan deserves all of the hate he receives from the fans, but he can reverse his fortune by keeping himself out of the way. The Knicks need an owner who will shut up and win. I doubt that will happen.