Will Isiah Get Off Easy?

Today the National Basketball Association handed out substantial suspensions to the players involved in Saturday's brawl during the Denver Nuggets-New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. NBA Commissioner David Stern issued 47 days worth of suspensions in total, and fined each organization $500,000. NBA scoring leader Carmelo Anthony got the biggest penalty. His 15 game suspension is the sixth-longest in league history.

Whether or not the league was too hard on Anthony, as Marc Stein argues (I'm inclined to disagree), the big question is whether the league will sanction Knicks coach Isiah Thomas for encouraging (if not directing) Knicks' rookie Mardy Collins to commit the flagrant foul that sparked the fight. According to several reports (and, apparently, the game tape) Thomas warned Anthony before the foul: “Hey, don’t go to the basket right now. It wouldn’t be a good idea. I’m just letting you know.”

Thomas' explanation, that he was encouraging Anthony to show more class than his coach and not run up the score, doesn't pass the laugh test (especially given Thomas' own history of sharp play). It seems it was enough for David Stern, however. The New York Times is reporting that Isiah has been "effectively cleared" for his role in instigating the melee.

“My finding was that there was not adequate evidence upon which to make a determination,” Commissioner David Stern said in a conference call. “You have to find something in order to suspend someone. Even in the N.B.A., there’s a presumption of innocence.”
Speaking of class, Anthony issued a gracious apology for his role in the altercation.Yet as of this morning, Thomas remained unrepentant, claiming that Nuggets coach George Karl "put his players in a very bad position" by not removing his starters at the end of the game.

[For those interested, my comments on the last major "basketbrawl" can be found here.]

UPDATE: Apparently I am not the only one who thinks Isiah Thomas got off easy. When I last checked, the respondents to this ESPN poll thought most of the suspensions were about right, but that Isiah Thomas deserved a suspension too.

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