NEW YORK -- Three members of the Team USA coaching staff weighed in Tuesday on the Knicks' controversial hiring of Isiah Thomas as a consultant, with Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim saying it crossed a line that shouldn't be crossed.
"If it’s good one place, then it’s good anywhere," Boeheim said after the U.S. men's national team scrimmaged on the city's West Side in preparation for the upcoming FIBA World Championships in Turkey. "You throw all that out there, and it wouldn’t be good. It doesn’t make much sense to me. I just don’t think it’s a good thing."
Krzyzewski, head coach of the U.S. team that opened a week-long training camp in New York, was more measured in his opinions on the Knicks' decision to employ Thomas, a former team president and currently an NCAA head coach at Florida International. Saying Thomas is his friend, Krzyzewski stopped short of saying the arrangement was unseemly, but made it clear that it wasn't something he'd do.
But the coach with the largest crowd of reporters around him was the Knicks' Mike D'Antoni, a Team USA assistant who will not be traveling to Turkey as he treats a back problem. D'Antoni struggled to put a positive spin on the return of Thomas to the organization that ousted him after an embarrassing tenure as both team president and coach. Aside from the obvious conflict of interest -- and strong possibility that the hiring is a violation of NBA rules -- some have painted Thomas' return as a reflection of how Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan views the performance of D'Antoni and team president Donnie Walsh.
Several times during an interview session with reporters on the practice court at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, D'Antoni repeated that Thomas' vaguely defined role within the Knicks' hierarchy is "not my area." D'Antoni said he learned of the decision "like everybody else" -- in a news release distributed Friday by the Knicks.
"He is a Hall of Famer and he’s one of the top 50 players in the game and he has a lot of credibility out there," D'Antoni said. "Donnie is very smart to be able to tap into him when he needs him, and if it’s an advantage to the Knicks, we’ll use it. That’s about all there is. There’s not a whole lot else to it."
Asked if the Knicks' attempt to bring Thomas back into the power structure from which he was ousted only two years ago reflected poorly on Walsh's standing with Dolan, D'Antoni said, "Donnie is running the show. He’s made some unbelievable moves up til now and we’ve got a nice young team coming on. I hate all the hoopla on the other end, but we should be focused on the upcoming season. That’s kind of what I’m focused on."
Dolan's decision to re-employ Thomas, according to sources, stemmed from the team's disappointing recruitment of top free agents this summer. After the team fell short in its pursuit of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- who united with Chris Bosh in Miami -- some elements within the organization became convinced that the team needed someone of Thomas' stature as a Hall of Fame player to close the deal with future free agents Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul or Tony Parker. Thomas, in fact, sold himself to Dolan as having played an important role in the Knicks' signing of Amar'e Stoudemire and also secured an 11th-hour meeting with James' representatives in a failed attempt to steer him to the Knicks.
But even if the Knicks attempted to narrowly define Thomas' role simply as a free-agent recruiter, sources have told CBSSports.com that the arrangement will nonetheless have a difficult time withstanding the test of the NBA rulebook. The league's constitution and by-laws explicitly forbid any NBA coach, scout, executive or consultant from having contact with draft-ineligible players -- an obvious requirement of an NCAA coach's job. League officials and lawyers are in the process of reviewing the legality of Thomas' hiring.
Boeheim, whose Syracuse team famously lost the 1987 NCAA championship game to Thomas' alma mater, Indiana, on Keith Smart's game-winning shot, doesn't need lawyers to tell him the arrangement makes no sense.
"You would maybe understand it if it was a guy that was retired and had tremendous success in the NBA and won something -- anything," Boeheim said. "And somebody said, 'Well, why don’t you just give us your sense of things.' I could see that. But I can't see this."