From the day he arrived, Donnie Walsh has tried to take down the circus tent and bring back some class and respectability to a franchise that hasn't had such words attached to it in over a decade.
But you just can't stop the three-ring show sometimes. P.T. Barnum said a sucker is born every minute. And that's all Isiah Thomas needed to overshadow -- not that I at all believe it was his intention -- an impressive, nationally-televised Knicks win on Thursday night with thoughts about how he longs to be back in New York once Old Man Walsh retires. I refuse to link the story here. By now, that web site has gathered all the clicks it hoped to collect -- perhaps more -- by publishing the story.
[I don't shoot the messenger here, in this case Ian O'Connor, because we all know how this business works. Still, I can't help but question why Isiah was never asked about his close friend, Rodney Heard, the Knicks scout who allegedly held illegal pre-draft workouts and is now under investigation by the NBA. It is a situation that could wind up costing the Knicks future draft picks, which in a way is ironic since the draft was one of the areas Thomas actually made a positive impact on the franchise.]
And here is Walsh, surrounded by reporters looking for a retort to Thomas' claims that if he were more involved, LeBron James would be in orange-and-blue. Walsh could have turned it into a circus for the hungry tabloids, who, as much as they rip him, actually miss Isiah as an easy punching bag. Walsh could have shot back at Thomas and reminded everyone of the payroll mess he had to spend the last two seasons cleaning up just so the Knicks could even be in the conversation of signing LeBron.
But instead, Walsh, as usual, set the example. He declined to comment. And when asked to describe his relationship with Thomas -- the man he replaced and yet kept around as a consultant before he left for FIU -- Walsh took the only road he knows.
"I don't consider Isiah a guy that's not my friend, if that's what you're asking," Walsh said. "I always treat him like a friend."
Deep down, you know he's fuming. Walsh is a proud person and this Knicks job, despite the medical issues he's had to deal with over the last two years, energizes him. Those close to Walsh were upset with the Thomas story, but Walsh wouldn't let anyone say a word. That's not the kind of place he wants this franchise to be. The circus isn't coming back to town, no matter how much some people seem to want it back.
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* - Speaking of Walsh, he beams with pride when you mention his draft pick, Toney Douglas, whom the Knicks grabbed after the bought the Lakers' 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft (which, for now, is still known as the "They took Jordan Hill over Brandon Jennings" draft). But Mike D'Antoni is also raving about the second-year guard, who had 19 points, 10 rebounds and five steals in Friday's win over John Wall and the Wizards.
Douglas -- who earned the "DWTDD" moniker when he once said he was "doing what Toney Douglas do" after a game last season -- is an NBA coach's dream. The guy who doesn't complain, just works on his game and takes it upon himself to develop into a valuable player. With Douglas, the only sense of entitlement he has involves the ball you're dribbling. He wants it.
Defense has always been his thing, but he couldn't stay on the floor without his offense. Last season he was erratic, but after an offseason of work on his three-point shot and the nuances of running an NBA offense, he has become a terrific two-way player (hockey term). If he were an NHL player, he'd be an early candidate for the Selke. The NBA doesn't have that kind of award, but they should.
"That's him in the sense that when he wasn't playing [last season] he was in every morning working with the coaches, getting better, shooting, getting better at pick-and-rolls; he stayed here all summer," D'Antoni said. "He has made himself into a heck of a basketball player."
Anthony Randolph, are you paying attention?
* - Speaking of Randolph, he sure gets his money's worth when he's on the floor. In 10 minutes, he took seven shots (made just one) and yet also grabbed seven rebounds, with two blocks, a steal, three turnovers and three fouls. The only column he left blank was assists. His game was wildly erratic, but D'Antoni left him in there even when it seemed Randolph's only mission was to fire up shots. The plan is to keep Randolph there as the 10th man in the rotation, keep him playing and hope he slowly starts to figure it out.
* - The Knicks had 11 blocks against the Wizards and are now averaging an NBA-best 8.4 per game. A season ago, the Knicks were last in the NBA with 3.1 per game. It was even worse two years ago, when their 2.48 blocks -- again last in the NBA -- was lower than the average of Dwight Howard (2.9) and Chris Andersen (2.5), who respectively led the NBA in blocks.