Isiah Thomas believes that inch-for-inch, he was better than Jordan, Magic and Bird

In an interview with FoxSports Bill Reiter, Isiah Thomas spoke about how his game compared to those of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. His comments are surprising, to say the least.

“I have no problem saying this at all,” he says. “[Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are] all 6-(feet)-9 and Jordan was 6-6 and a half. If they were all 6-1, it wouldn’t even be a question. They wouldn’t even f—ing rate. If they were all my size, s—, they wouldn’t even be talked about.

“I beat the s— out of them when they were that big. If we were all the same size, f—.” He stops to laugh good-naturedly. “Make them 6-1 and let’s go on the court.”

In basketball, there’s an obvious advantage to being tall, but if it were the only (or even driving) quality necessary to be great, Gheorghe Mureşan would have been a Hall of Famer.

Little guys have an advantage in quickness and bigger guys are closer to the rim. Isiah used his quickness to get by bigger defenders, while Jordan, Magic and Bird used their size to dominate smaller players.

Had MJ, Magic or Bird been 6-1 or 6-2, they still would have been great players. They wouldn’t have been as big, but that wouldn’t affect their ability to shoot the ball or find the open man. Isiah complaining about their height no different than if they complained about Isiah’s quickness. If you’re in the NBA, you’re gifted one way or another.

Thomas says in the piece that he’s terrible at public relations, and this is another example. But the guy can evaluate talent. The Knicks drafted pretty well under his tenure — David Lee, Wilson Chandler, Trevor Ariza, Channing Frye — and he helped the Raptors settle on Marcus Camby, Damon Stoudemire and Tracy McGrady. I doubt he would accept such a role, but Thomas would make a great VP of player personnel.

The article is really about Isiah’s exile, and Reiter mentions Thomas’ abilities in the area of player evaluation as a possible way back into the league:

In 2009, ESPN used the Estimated Wins Added stat, developed by respected basketball mind John Hollinger, to judge 20 years worth of general managers. Isiah was ranked the second-best evaluator of talent…

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Isiah, who can’t seem to stay out of his own way, PR-wise. He has talents that could be useful to NBA teams, but there is so much baggage and ego that goes along with him that it just makes it easier for teams to go another direction. However, Knicks owner James Dolan does like him, so there’s always a chance that he could end up in New York again.

Just don’t let him participate in any trade discussions.

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What kind of point guard WAS he?

My post from a few days ago was relatively well-received at reddit, and one of the readers there said that he’d like to see the same graph for some of the all-time great point guards.

So with a little help from Basketball-Reference.com, I compiled a list of (all?) the Hall of Fame point guards: Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkens, Bob Cousy, Jerry West, John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Tiny Archibald, Calvin Murphy, Pete Maravich and Walt Frazier. Unfortunately, the NBA didn’t start keeping track of turnovers until the 1977-78 season, so there’s no assist-to-turnover data for the first four (Robertson, Wilkens, Cousy, West) and the data for Archibald, Murphy, Maravich and Frazier is incomplete, so I could only use their post-1977 numbers.

I also compiled a list of the top non-HOF point guards who are both retired and still active: Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash, Gary Payton, Rod Strickland, Maurice Cheeks, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway, Andre Miller, Muggsy Bogues, Kevin Johnson, Derek Harper, Stephon Marbury (yes, Stephon Marbury), John Lucas, Norm Nixon, Mookie Blaylock, Sam Cassell, Avery Johnson, Baron Davis, Nick Van Exel, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Mike Bibby. All of these players have at least 5,400 career assists, which seemed to be the cutoff for players I was interested in using for this study.

Lastly, I added seven of the top current point guards who have yet to break the 5,400-assist barrier: Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and of course, Chris Paul.

I first tackled this subject two years ago, and settled on the shot-to-assist ratio to determine whether a player is “pass-first” or “shoot-first.” The higher the number, the more of a “shoot-first” player he is. To determine whether or not a player is “turnover-prone,” I calculated each player’s assist-to-turnover ratio. The higher the number, the better the player is at taking care of the ball, relative to what he’s asked to do as a playmaker for his team. The graph takes a gentle downward slope because assists are part of both calculations. (Note: While I do like FGA/A as the criteria for shoot-first/pass-first, I am not completely sold on A/TO as the criteria for turnover-prone. Perhaps (A+FGA)/TO would show shoot-first guards in a better light? Maybe I’ll try that next year.)

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Big names show up to CBA negotiations

Per ESPN…

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul were among the players who attended a negotiating session between the NBA and the union Thursday.

“It’s important for me that all of us, as being the faces of the NBA, to be involved in the negotiations and what’s going on,” Anthony said as he left. “Our future is in jeopardy if we can’t come into a mutual agreement.”

LeBron and Wade are locked into long term deals, and it would be very difficult for the owners to negotiate any kind of changes to those contracts. The guys that really have something to lose with an owner-friendly CBA are Anthony and Paul, who will be signing new deals in the next two years.

Regardless, the show of force from the players’ side is important. The owners need to know that the league’s biggest names are behind the union in these negotiations.

The four-hour bargaining session Thursday was the first since February’s All-Star weekend, when the players — also strengthened by the surprising attendance of some big names — rejected the owners’ proposal. The union recently submitted its own proposal, but commissioner David Stern has indicated it’s similar to the current CBA, and the owners are seeking significant changes to the system.

Stern has estimated the league will lose about $370 million this season, which the union disputes. The sides began discussions last year but remained far apart, creating fears of a lockout next summer.

Stern cracks me up. He effuses positivity whenever he’s asked about the financial state of the league — to the point that I think he’s trying to hypnotize his audience — but now that it’s time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, the league is suddenly $370 million in the red. After going on and on about how well the league is doing worldwide, he’s pleading poverty.

However, the CBA does need a few changes. Contracts need to be guaranteed only to a certain point — say, 50% in years 3-4-5 — or they need to be kept to a maximum of four years. Too many franchises handicap themselves by giving long-term, lucrative contracts to players on the decline. Also, there’s nothing a team can do when a perfectly good player is hamstrung by injuries after signing his deal (i.e. Michael Redd or Tracy McGrady).

I’d also like to see a harder cap. Teams with free-spending owners like James Dolan, Jerry Buss or Mark Cuban make things that much tougher on small market teams who can’t afford to keep up with the Joneses. Fortunately, these teams — the Knicks, Lakers and the Mavs — are generally way over the cap, so they aren’t competing directly with the small market teams for free agents. (The Knicks were obviously the exception this summer, but they’ll be over the cap before too long, especially if they rehire Isiah Thomas in a year or two.) All in all, the salary cap rules aren’t too bad — at least it’s not uncapped, like baseball.

Isiah Thomas won’t serve as consultant for the Knicks

NEW YORK - MARCH 08:  Head coach Isiah Thomas of the New York Knicks watches from the sideline against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden March 8, 2008 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Knicks fans can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now. Apparently, Zeke’s consulting deal breaks all sorts of NBA conflict-of-interest rules.

Isiah Thomas is not taking the consultant’s job with the New York Knicks, sources close to the NBA told ESPN 1050 New York.

Thomas was in communication with commissioner David Stern’s office and then rescinded his acceptance because of the conflict-of-interest by-laws of the NBA. Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden president Jim Dolan is expected to release a statement shortly.

I don’t think Thomas’s relationship with the Knicks is even close to over. Dolan seems to have one hell of a man crush on Zeke and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets his old job back once Donnie Walsh is eventually let go.

This might be a case of the NBA saving Dolan from himself. Thomas may have helped in landing Amare Stoudemire, but I don’t think Carmelo Anthony would want to sign on knowing that Thomas is the one calling the shots. The guy was good at evaluating talent in the draft, but he made a series of horrible trades that put the Knicks in the position they are today.

Did Donnie Walsh almost resign?

Knicks President Donnie Walsh listens while Amar'e Stoudemire speaks to the media at a press conference after Stoudemire signed a 5 year and nearly 100 million dollar contract to play with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on July 8, 2010.    UPI/John Angelillo Photo via Newscom

Per the NY Daily News

The Daily News has learned that Donnie Walsh considered resigning after Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan made the controversial move to hire Thomas, but Walsh decided to continue running the team despite his objections to Thomas having a role in the front office.

“Donnie finds this entire thing distasteful,” said one NBA source. “He’s had second thoughts about staying but he wants to finish the job.”

olan’s insistence on giving Thomas the ambiguous title of consultant angered Walsh, who for two years has been trying to hire former St. John’s All-American Chris Mullin as general manager. Dolan has refused to sign off on hiring Mullin and clearly has designs on giving that position to Thomas, who also holds the title of head coach at Florida International University in Miami.

The News reported yesterday that Dolan advised Walsh to hire Thomas as his general manager two weeks ago. When Walsh refused, Dolan decided to make Thomas a consultant, a move that was universally panned by several of Dolan’s top executives, according to sources.

Besides Walsh and Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni being against the move, Garden vice chairman Hank Ratner and Garden president Scott O’Neil voiced their displeasure but were overruled by Dolan, sources said.

As I wrote last week, Thomas’s GM talents are limited to college scouting and the draft. He performed pretty well in that area during his tenure as Knicks GM, but was a disaster in all other areas of the job. He was regularly fleeced in trades and was accused of sexually harassing a woman who worked for him.

To say that Dolan’s hiring of Thomas has been ‘universally panned’ is an understatement. Why the owner would bring Thomas back after such a terrible first stint is perplexing indeed.

Maybe the NBA will step in and save Dolan from himself. The league is looking into the details of Zeke’s deal, which may not be legal under the league’s rules, given his current job as head coach at FIU.

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