Mission accomplished for Isiah? Hardly

Updated: July 2, 2004, 12:13 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider
In February, Isiah Thomas was the conquering hero, virtually standing before the cheering New York media with a big "Mission Accomplished" banner waving in the background.

In a series of blitzkreig-like moves, Isiah transformed a team that many thought was unchangeable almost overnight. Charlie Ward, Howard Eisley, Antonio McDyess, Keith Van Horn, Clarence Weatherspoon and Maciej Lampe were out in the space of eight weeks. They were replaced with big names like Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed.

Isiah was the anti-Scott Layden. He was articulate, decisive and loved the spotlight. The Knicks made a nice push at the end of the season and improbably finished in the No. 7 playoff spot in the East. The Knicks were getting better!

Now read the fine print.

Isiah has moved the Knicks from the level of bad to mediocre and locked them there with a quagmire of long-term, untradeable contracts and players whose games don't really match.

His effort to win the hearts and minds of the New York fans and media was a short-term home run. Long term? Expect the NBA equivalent of Vietnam -- an unwinnable war with heavy losses.

The only thing missing might be the Michael Moore documentary.

Isiah was expecting to walk into free agency and convince a player like Rasheed Wallace he was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Instead, the Knicks likely will be left with a couple of bit players.

"We have to sell the Knicks, and we have to sell our vision moving forward," Thomas said. "The city sells itself, but the players want to see what strategies you have in place and is this a place you can build a dynasty and win for a long time. That's the story we'll be telling."

At best, Jamal Crawford can become the sixth guard in the backcourt. Kobe Bryant isn't walking through that door. Neither is Shaq, Kenyon Martin or any other superstar to grab headlines in the daily tabs.

The Knicks' flexibility is gone. In the process of cleaning house, Isiah played almost all of his cards. He used expiring contracts and rookies to obtain good players with max contracts. They're essentially bound to the team that Isiah has built. Is it enough to save the Knicks from another five years of mediocrity?

That's the question every New Yorker should be asking right about now.

Now that Isiah has painted the Knicks into a corner, can the players he added paint their way out? Here's a look at what to expect as Insider continues its summer blueprint series.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer