NEW YORK — Scott Layden was fired Monday as president of the New York Knicks and Isiah Thomas was hired to replace him.
The move comes after New York missed the playoffs the past two seasons with a roster largely assembled by Layden. The Knicks are 10-18 this season, and recent speculation centered on coach Don Chaney possibly losing his job.
Instead, the odd man out is Layden, who replaced Ernie Grunfeld in the summer of 1999 after the Knicks were coming off an appearance in the NBA Finals.
"This was a very difficult decision for us to make," said James Dolan, the chairman of the team's corporate owner, Cablevision. "Scott is a good man who worked tirelessly for the Knicks over the last few years."
Layden, a native New Yorker and the son of former Jazz coach Frank Layden, spent 18 seasons with Utah before being brought to New York by former Utah executive Dave Checketts.
Layden, 44, built his reputation in Utah through his ability to pluck obscure but productive players with low draft picks. But he did not enjoy similar success drafting for the Knicks.
Thomas has been out of the NBA since being fired over the summer by the Indiana Pacers, where he was the coach for three seasons.
"I want to stay in coaching," Thomas told the AP last month. "I enjoy it. I had a great deal of success helping shape and mold young people, making the playoffs with the youngest team to do it in 25 years. I got bit by the bug.
"I'll wait for my next opportunity," he said. "I wouldn't rule out college but I prefer the pro game."
Thomas will get his first look at his new team Tuesday night when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit Madison Square Garden.
Thomas' first task will be evaluating a roster with the league's highest payroll and deciding whether any of those massive contracts can be moved in a trade.
"Isiah is one of the most celebrated figures in the history of the NBA and we believe he is the right person to lead this team into the future," Dolan said. "His set of skills and experience will reinvigorate this team to achieve our only goal — delivering a championship-caliber team to all Knicks fans."
Layden's last major move was the four-team deal that sent Latrell Sprewell to Minnesota and brought Keith Van Horn to New York. The deal has appeared to favor the Timberwolves during the first two months of the season. Sprewell has averaged 17.2 points for Minnesota while Van Horn has struggled, averaging 14.8 points and getting benched for the fourth quarter of several recent games.
Before the Van Horn trade, Layden's biggest move came on draft night in 2002 when he sent Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson and the Knicks' lottery pick to Denver for Antonio McDyess.
McDyess fractured his kneecap in an exhibition game and missed the entire 2002-03 season, finally returning 11 games ago.
With the Knicks losing regularly while failing to draw the sellout crowds that were a staple during the 1990s, Layden became a lightning rod for criticism. The anti-Layden feeling was so strong in New York that when LeBron James was selected with the No. 1 pick in the draft last June, commissioner David Stern's announcement of the selection was drowned out by a loud chant of "Fire Layden."
At the behest of Checketts, Layden traded franchise stalwart Patrick Ewing to Seattle in the summer of 2000, a move that ultimately contributed to the club's current salary cap predicament.
The contracts of Allan Houston, Van Horn, Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson will take up almost all of the team's salary cap space for the next three seasons, and the Knicks must decide after this season whether to invest in McDyess, who will be a free agent next summer.
McDyess is one of six power forwards on the roster that Layden assembled, and the team lacks depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The Knicks have shown themselves to be especially vulnerable against younger, quicker teams.
Layden's three picks from last June's draft — Michael Sweetney, Maciej Lampe and Slavko Vranes — are all on the injured list. His most promising pick from the 2002 draft, Serbian point guard Milos Vujanic, elected to play in Europe after Layden failed to make him a lucrative enough offer when he was unsigned two summers ago.
New York went 0-5 on a recent West Coast road trip, then returned home and lost 104-86 loss to Golden State.
Several newspapers reported Saturday that Chaney was in danger of being fired, and he could still be in jeopardy despite a victory Saturday night against Atlanta.
Chaney's assistants include Brendan Malone, who served as Thomas' assistant in Indiana the past. Malone also was Toronto's first coach before getting fired by Thomas when he was running the Raptors in 1996.
Chaney gave an impassioned defense of his work ethic and preparation skills in a pre-game meeting with reporters Saturday, making two somewhat disparaging references to the makeup of the roster.