THE ART OF THE DEAL, ACCORDING TO ISIAH

Let me get this straight.

1) The New York Knicks express interest in Isiah Thomas.

2) Isiah goes to Bill Davidson with the news.

3) Davidson immediately gives Isiah 10 percent of the team, a vice presidency and a $55 million package to keep him in Detroit.

Does the word overreaction come to mind?

How about common sense? Because, personally, I can’t find any sense in this

supposed deal. To be honest, I wonder whether this is the deal at all. I’m sure Isiah will be taken care of, but $55 million?

Let’s be realistic for a moment. When Magic Johnson retired, he didn’t get
$55 million or 10 percent of the Lakers — and you could argue he did a lot more in his career and for his team than Isiah Thomas.

And when Larry Bird retired, he didn’t get 10 percent of the Celtics or $55 million, either. He did get a front-office job, which consisted of a desk and permission never to show up at it. You could argue Bird did more for his team
— at least championship-wise — than Isiah Thomas.

When Michael Jordan retired, he didn’t get 10 percent of the Bulls or $55 million. And Jordan, who led the team to three straight championships, is the most famous sports face on the planet. Certainly more so than Isiah Thomas.

So why should you, as an intelligent sports fan, believe that Isiah walks into his owner’s office — with a bogus trade, by the way — and walks out with the keys to the kingdom?

You shouldn’t.

And I don’t.

Lovely parting gifts?

But he will get something. When they work this all out — and word is they still were doing so Wednesday night — I’m sure Big Daddy Bill will set up young Isiah quite nicely. Isiah will have money. He’ll have power. He’ll have a future.

Which may lead you to a few other questions.

For example: Why did Bill Laimbeer, who also helped lead this team to its two championships, not get some huge package upon retiring? Why did Vinnie Johnson, a beloved player who hit the winning shot for the second title, leave Detroit via waivers instead of getting a present from the owner? Why did Dennis Rodman, Mark Aguirre, James Edwards or John Salley not get some wonderful financial embrace for all they had done for Davidson’s franchise?

And how about Chuck Daly, the man who coached this team from obscurity to two NBA crowns? When his last contract was up and he wanted more money and some control over player personnel decisions — two things Thomas is supposedly getting — the Pistons told Daly to take a hike.

Why treat these people this way and Isiah so differently?

Good question. Here’s the answer. Isiah has always been treated differently. He and Bill Davidson have a relationship that can only be described as “loving.” Davidson loves Isiah — and Isiah loves Davidson for feeling that way.

And because of this, Isiah has really always had what people are suddenly whispering he might get: Control.

Anyone who really knows the Pistons knows that Thomas already has swung his weight around far beyond the role of normal player. His opinion is sought on player acquisitions. He once talked Davidson into keeping Daly as coach. In fact, Daly used to lament, “How can I ever disagree with Isiah? He vacations with the owner!”

Which is true. And people who have been there say Davidson’s house has a huge portrait of Thomas hanging in it. This type of affection gives Isiah confidence because he knows, in any power struggle, he will win. Some Pistons have been so in awe of his influence, that even after they leave Detroit, they hesitate to talk publicly about him.

Power. He has it here because of this unswerving relationship with Davidson. Give Isiah credit. He got friendly with the right guy. The man with the power

And so it wouldn’t be surprising if Thomas ends up with a nice bankroll and an important position when his playing days are over. And you know what? If Davidson wants to hand him the whole franchise, it’s his money, he can do it.

But let’s be clear about a few things. Like the Knicks deal. The Knicks called, the Pistons asked Thomas whether he’d want to go, and he said no. That’s it. Give Thomas credit for playing the media like a violin, making cryptic statements about “not standing in the way if the Pistons want to make a change.” Come on. Any change would have to go through him, and he knew it.

Yet next thing you hear, he’s in Davidson’s office, signing up his future.

Personally, I figure New York would have been a good deal for Thomas. He could have won a championship there, been hailed as a savior, charmed the New York media with his turn-it-on smile, and re-invented himself, perhaps getting the lucrative endorsement deals he’s never gotten in Detroit. It would have been worth big bucks. A whole new future.

So why not do it? Use common sense. Isiah is smart. The deal here was better.

Whatever that deal is.

I will say this much: If Thomas is promised personnel power, the proper thing to do is retire after this season. Being chummy with the owner is one thing. But playing with teammates whom you could soon trade or a coach whom you could soon fire, well, sorry, that’s too weird.

Otherwise, this story is simply about waiting for the numbers. Those who say, wow, Isiah will have a great arrangement once he retires haven’t been paying attention.

He’s had one all along.

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