CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Knicks-Thomas reunion against NBA rules ... and a horrible idea

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NEW YORK -- Never mind that Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, two of Isiah Thomas' signature acquisitions when running the Knicks, continue to haunt the franchise. Never mind that a federal court jury found Thomas' employer, Madison Square Garden, and its chairman, James Dolan, liable to the tune of more than $11 million in a tawdry, embarrassing sexual harassment lawsuit stemming from Thomas' behavior.

Never mind that $11 million is what Curry will be paid next season, presumably to not play basketball –- because there is no indication as of this moment that he still can, and precious little evidence that he ever could.

Using common sense or the NBA rule book, the Knicks bringing Isiah Thomas back just doesn't add up. (Getty Images)  
Using common sense or the NBA rule book, the Knicks bringing Isiah Thomas back just doesn't add up. (Getty Images)  
Forget that it took Thomas' successor, Donnie Walsh, two full years to clean up the disaster that Thomas left behind –- and that Walsh, truth be told, still has a fair amount of toxic cleanup ahead of him. Curry's bloated contract and his bloated body were two significant reasons the Knicks were unable to land one of the top free agents this summer. The unprotected first-round pick (No. 9) in the 2010 draft that Utah acquired from the Suns -- after Thomas sent it to Phoenix in the Marbury trade –- was just another asset that Thomas squandered. It was another tool that Walsh didn't have at his disposal as he and the hazmat teams scoured the Garden floors in their quest to clean up the toxic scene left behind by Isiah.

Forget all of this, even though these should've been very good reasons for the Knicks not to rehire Thomas as a consultant in the first place. Forget it, because chances are all of this discussion will prove to be a whole lot to do about nothing.

The Knicks, sources say, are going to have a very difficult time getting this hire past NBA officials. Not because it's a stupid idea, but because it's probably against league rules.

The NBA Constitution and By-Laws include very strict prohibitions against team employees having contact with draft-ineligible players –- i.e., high school prospects and college or international players not yet eligible to be drafted. NBA team officials aren't even permitted to utter the names of such players, much less coach them, scout them, or comment about them in press conferences.

Seeing as Thomas is the head basketball coach at Florida International University, it would seem to be elementary that such contact is a daily requirement of his day job. Thus, unless the Knicks can pull a fast one on David Stern –- and good luck with that -– sources say it is highly unlikely that the team's attempt to hire Thomas will pass the smell test, much less the legal one.

Reports over the weekend said Walsh was seething over the Thomas hire and that he threatened to quit over it. Not entirely true, though who could blame him? Sources say Dolan discussed the matter with Walsh, who indicated he wouldn't object to Thomas resuming the consulting role he occupied for one year before taking the FIU job. But Walsh, a longtime supporter of Thomas, let it be known that he wouldn't be comfortable with Thomas being granted any type of full-time role with day-to-day basketball responsibilities. Thank God for that, otherwise Dolan might've hired him as general manager –- instead of infinitely more qualified candidates such as Kevin Pritchard, Danny Ferry, Mark Warkentien or Chris Mullin.

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The fact that Thomas' hiring was discussed with Walsh is at least encouraging. The fact that it evidently wasn't vetted with legal or basketball operations officials at the league office is troubling, to say the least. That pretty much says it all about what the problem was with the Garden under the co-leadership of Dolan and Thomas, and about why an encore performance isn't needed, wanted or advised.

The league is "reviewing the agreement, in consultation with the Knicks, for compliance with league rules," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said. This being summer vacation time, no heavy hitters from the NBA legal department will have to come home from the beach to render this decision. Any paralegal-in-training will do.

In their carefully worded news release Friday, the Knicks only vaguely defined Thomas' duties by saying he would assist the organization "in various capacities, including player recruitment." But the announcement went astray –- and the hiring potentially ran afoul of league rules –- when it proclaimed that Thomas would "provide valuable insight and analysis of young prospects from around the world" while remaining coach at FIU.

That part of the job description is against the rules, plain as day. NBA guidelines expressly forbid team employees from having any kind of contact with draft-ineligible players, including international players. The rules apply to all "basketball operations staff, coaches or scouts, whether full-time or part-time or whether classified as employees or consultants."

What's more, a person who has worked as a top basketball operations official with an NBA team said the league couldn't possibly allow the Thomas hire to stand for the simple reason that it would open the floodgates to other teams hiring college coaches as consultants. As if the basketball waters aren't already muddy enough.

"I think it's going to blur the line to such a degree that teams are going to say, 'OK it's a competitive disadvantage if we don't have a guy,'" the official said. "So they're going to go get guys, whether they're low-level coaches or whatever. All these teams and executives are going to say, 'Hold on, this is a different message you're sending us.'"

Now, some would say letting the Knicks hire Thomas again in any capacity would put no one but the Knicks at a competitive disadvantage. Others would say Thomas couldn't influence the Knicks' draft picks anyway, seeing as he traded them all away.

In all seriousness, this isn't a good idea for so many reasons that it's difficult to imagine Thomas' consulting gig lasting more than a few days. Just not too many days. No, Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day, and it isn't easy to rebuild in the NBA no matter where you are. Much easier, as Thomas proved, to destroy.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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