Bird, McHale and Ainge – The Teflon Trinity
I’m sure glad my good friend and colleague Harvey Araton of The New York Times brought this out in the open before I did. Had I done so, those among you who holla, “Roy, everything’s not about race,” would’ve no doubt popped a vein. But I’ve been pondering for awhile now the disparity in coverage of the tenures of Knicks president/coach Isiah Thomas and his peers, Minnesota VP/Basketball Operations Kevin McHale, Boston GM Danny Ainge and Indiana GM/icon Larry Bird.
Thomas is roundly and regularly skewered in New York for the Knicks poor performance under his aegis. (Full disclosure: I’m a season ticket holder and have not been a very happy paying that monthly nut for awhile now.) Much of the criticism is more than justified (Jarome James = $30 million???), and he’s certainly not above examination and criticism. It comes with his role(s), and his lack of significant success off the court in prior jobs does not give him a lot a credibility to stand upon.
But at the same time, his former on-court foes seem to be showered in Teflon. McHale’s been in his current role for 12 years, which coincides with 12-year career of one of the most talented players of this generation, Kevin Garnett. In that time, the Timberwolves went seven straight seasons without getting out of the first round of the playoffs before doing so in 2004. But they haven’t reached the playoffs since. Last month, McHale fired coach Dwane Casey even though the team was 20-20 in the tough Western Conference.
Ainge’s Celtics are young and without their only star, the injured Paul Pierce. They’re also in the midst of a franchise-record losing streak (16 and counting) and haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 2002-03. Ainge dismantled a team that reached the second-round of the playoffs that season with some questionable trades that cost him a respected coach (Jim O’Brien) and most Boston fans. Their only hope lies in Pierce’s recovery and the lottery which could reap either Ohio State center Greg Oden or Texas forward Kevin Durrant, two freshman who may choose to turn pro after this season – and two big men reminiscent of Patrick Ewing and the late Len Bias.
Then there’s Bird. His first move upon arriving in Indiana in 2002 was to fire Thomas, his head coach at the time, and replace him with Rick Carlisle. The newbie won 61 games and took the Pacers to the NBA Finals in his first season (Araton says Thomas wasn’t given a thread of credit for his role in putting that team together) but has been a middling nudge-above-.500 coach. Moreover, has any franchise been a bigger embarrassment to the game regarding off-court (and in-stands) behavior oevr the last three seasons? Between the infamous Malice and the Palace, former Pacer Stephen Jackson’s fun-totin’ imitation of Pistol Pete outside an Indy strip club earlier this season and the alleged punch-up between Pacers Jamall Tinsley and Marquis Daniels and a saloon manager, you’d think sleepy Indiana was the Wild, Wild (Mid)West.
Again, Thomas is not above scrutiny. Some of his trades and free-agent signings have been questionable and his one can easily question his handling of the three previous coaches that worked under him.
Some might cast the disparate nature of the criticisms at the notebooks of New York’s ravenous media. Not me. Reporters in other cities are (or should) be just as skeptical and diligent has their brethren in other cities. And maybe because I live in New York, I’m not as privy to the local vibes as I am those that reverberate here each day. Still, I’ve been wondering for awhile if there’s any other reason McHale, Ainge and Bird are dancing while their former on-court nemesis is being beat up in the alley out back.
Like I said, I’ve just been wondering. I’m glad Harvey Araton has, too.
This, I could not resist…