Knicks' big day ends with controversy

November 22, 2008 3:45:03 PM PST
With two moves, the New York Knicks created salary space for a premier free agent and playing time for Stephon Marbury. They hope someone like LeBron James wants their money more than Marbury wanted their minutes.

Short-handed after trading their two top scorers and Marbury declining to play, the Knicks lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 104-87 on Friday night.

Still, it was a successful day for the Knicks, who freed up coveted salary-cap space for the summer of 2010 when team president Donnie Walsh traded Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford in separate deals.

"We've accomplished a lot of things and again, I don't think we've compromised this season, which was important to me and to Donnie and the fans and everybody else," coach Mike D'Antoni said before the game. "We didn't compromise it. We will be fighting for the playoffs, which we were doing before. And we cleared cap to be a player as we go forward with our plan."

Crawford was sent to Golden State for forward Al Harrington.

Hours later, Randolph was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers along with reserve guard Mardy Collins for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas.

Walsh has repeatedly said his goal was to get under the cap in time for a potentially sensational free-agent crop that could be headlined by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"I think that opening up cap space down the road for us is a big plus on our side and I hope our fans understand that that can give us an opportunity to make the team better according to the plan that I've outlined," Walsh said on a conference call. "So I'm trying to be true to what I said from Day One, and that's what I'm doing."

The three new players might not be available until Tuesday, so D'Antoni said he told Marbury there would be 30-35 minutes available Friday. However, the point guard again took his now-customary spot on the bench, where he has spent every minute this season, leaving the Knicks with only seven players in the opener of games on back-to-back nights.

D'Antoni said afterward that he wanted Marbury to play and would no longer address the issue. Marbury had a different view of the events.

"The only thing I'm at liberty to say is that I was told that they were moving forward, and I'm not the person who chooses who plays or doesn't," Marbury said.

Marbury's contract expires after this season and he isn't in the plans for the future, which is the Knicks' biggest concern.

Both Randolph and Crawford have deals that extend past 2010.

Randolph is scheduled to make $17.3 million and Crawford $10.1 million in 2010-11. None of the players the Knicks brought back are under contract past 2010.

James, Wade and Bosh, all members of the U.S. Olympic team, could become free agents that summer.

New York has had seven straight losing seasons, and Friday's moves might clinch an eighth, which would tie a franchise record.

Though Harrington could flourish in D'Antoni's uptempo system and Thomas played well for him in Phoenix, the Knicks have to replace the 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds Randolph was averaging, plus Crawford's 19.6 points per game.

"I think this is an unfortunate time to make this kind of trade because you're introducing three new players into the system and in addition to that you're taking out the two guys who are our most successful players in the beginning of the season in Zach and in Jamal," Walsh said. "So this will be a difficult time for our coach, but I think we we're all on the same page as far as trying to get this done."

But Walsh and D'Antoni have made it clear they are playing for the future, so the record this season was never the first priority, anyway. With the allure of playing in New York and for D'Antoni, Walsh believes the Knicks would be a player in 2010 if the finances allowed.

A top player like James who has completed seven seasons in the league in 2010 would be eligible to receive a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap under rules of the collective bargaining agreement. That could be between $18-19 million in the first year of a new deal.

Even if Walsh offers extensions to Nate Robinson and David Lee this summer, the current group of Knicks still would have only a half-dozen players under contract in 2010. He still may try to move center Eddy Curry, who will make $11.3 million in 2010-11 and is a poor fit in D'Antoni's system. The 6-foot-11 center hasn't played this season.

The Knicks have been above the cap for years and haven't been able to make a free-agent splash in more than a decade. But they are now in position - perhaps so good that Walsh didn't rule out possibly being able to land two max players in two years.

"I have a good idea of what we just did," Walsh said. "I can't tell you that I've thought out what I'm going to do in two years or something like that. I haven't done that. All I know is that we've created more cap space than we had."