New York Knicks: 6 Most Regrettable Contracts in Franchise History
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Money is the root of all evil, and for all parties affected by the NBA lockout, this ancient saying couldn’t be any more accurate.
Week one of the dispute is in the books, and no apparent timetable for a return to normalcy exists.
Fans are nervous, and players are impatient—some of the league’s biggest names have even expressed an interest in playing overseas if matters are not resolved by early fall.
Whenever play resumes, the ceiling on each club’s salary cap may be dropped considerably. The days of general managers conducting deals with Monopoly money could be a thing of the past.
We see it in every major professional sport. A player has one or two good seasons, he enters free agency, and ding ding ding: jackpot.
Sometimes, athletes are not even paid based on their accomplishments, but instead for their potential. Take Greg Oden for example—the Portland Trail Blazers recently made the brittle center an $8.8 million qualifying offer.
No one in his right mind is going to dole out that kind of dough to a guy who’s played the equivalent of one season over the course of three years. No doubt, he’s going to stay with the team that drafted him for that price.
The New York Knicks, in desperate search of a player to resurrect the franchise, have found themselves on the losing end of some rather questionable contracts. Some of the following qualify among the worst investments in the history of the game.
Stephon Marbury (5 Years, $90 Million)
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It was supposed to be a storybook ending for the Coney Island prodigy when the Knicks announced they’d be bringing Stephon Marbury home in a Jan. 2004 trade with the Phoenix Suns.
In Marbury, the Knicks were getting a point guard who could do it all.
Not only was Marbury capable of making a circus pass to find the open man for the assist, but he also had the uncanny ability to create his own shot no matter who was guarding him.
When New York acquired him, Marbury was part of an elite group of point guards that averaged at least 20 points and eight assists for their careers.
As part of the Marbury transaction, the Knicks also absorbed a $76 million contract extension—to take effect at the onset of the 2005-06 season—he’d signed with the Suns.
The Knicks reached the playoffs during the half season Marbury was at the helm, but they were swept by the New Jersey Nets in the first round.
It was all downhill from there.
Public spats with Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas further enhanced fellow players’ and fans’ disdain for Marbury and fueled the dysfunction of an abysmal team.
Marbury’s Hall of Fame-worthy numbers became quite ordinary by his third year with the team. In his final season under Thomas, Marbury averaged career lows of 14.9 points and 5.1 assists, and Thomas even removed him from the starting lineup.
The hostile point guard had managed to alienate just about everyone around him and made no bones about wanting out of New York.
When Mike D’Antoni replaced Thomas as head coach for the 2008-09 season, some past issues from D’Antoni and Marbury butting heads during their brief time in Phoenix together reemerged. D’Antoni elected to name Chris Duhon the starting point guard after training camp, distancing himself and the organization from Marbury even further.
A late Nov. 2008 game, in which New York only had nine healthy players available, including Marbury, was the last straw.
After the Knicks had vacated the starting shooting guard position once held by Jamal Crawford, D’Antoni offered Marbury a chance to step into the role. Marbury refused to offer his services and received a single-game suspension.
Marbury met with former Knicks president Donnie Walsh to discuss a buyout on Dec. 1, 2008. Unable to see eye to eye, a disgruntled Marbury was banned from the team indefinitely.
On Feb. 24, 2009, Marbury and the Knicks finally agreed on a buyout in which he would forfeit approximately $2 million of his $21 million salary. It had been anything but a fairytale.
Over the course of about five years, New York paid Marbury close to $88 million and failed to make another postseason appearance after 2004. One of the NBA’s storied franchises, the Knicks also managed to become the laughing stock of professional basketball.
Meanwhile, Marbury was picked up by the Boston Celtics in the wake of the buyout to back up Rajon Rondo en route to a conference semifinals loss.
The last two years, he’s earned as little as $25,000 a month to play professionally in China. Now 34, Marbury has fallen into relative obscurity, and his NBA days are likely behind him.
Jerome James (5 Years, $30 Million)
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There’s more to talk about concerning Jerome James’ sweet deal with the Knicks than his achievements in all of his nine NBA seasons combined.
In another one of Isiah Thomas’s brilliant decisions as general manager, he based the summer 2005 signing of the free agent James on 11 playoff games the previous spring with the Seattle Supersonics. In two series versus the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs, James averaged 12.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
However, those numbers are slightly skewed considering James faced Tim Duncan in his prime for the final six of those contests. James actually put up a line of 17.2 points and 9.4 boards against the Kings, which really whetted Thomas’ appetite.
Having traded away their only true centers —Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas —the 7’1” James had chosen the most opportune moment to audition for the Knicks. New York wasted no time in signing him at the conclusion of the NBA Finals to a five-year contract reportedly worth $29 million.
James was penciled in as the Knicks’ starting center to begin the 2005-06 season. But to no one’s amazement, Isiah Thomas threw a curveball and pursued the Chicago Bulls' budding big man, Eddy Curry.
Curry arrived in New York during the preseason and stepped right into the starting role, leaving James out in the cold. Nevertheless, James was a $6 million-a-year reserve who never expected starter’s minutes, so he was as content as can be.
Throughout his first two years as a Knick, James appeared in 85 games and started 20 of them in Curry’s absence. From 2007 to 2009, James might as well have watched the games from the bar across the street.
Following knee surgery in Nov. 2007, James was healthy enough to participate in two games the remainder of the season.
The following year, Mike D’Antoni took the reins and saw no place for an immobile slug like James in his offense. After rupturing his Achilles tendon, James appeared in two games that season as well.
The Knicks hoped to separate themselves from James after realizing that Thomas’s experiment had gone completely awry. Fortunately, the Chicago Bulls were willing to accept James as a piece in a trade which shipped Larry Hughes to New York.
By opting not to release him and holding out for a trade, New York was able to recoup a little cash.
Chicago proceeded to waive James—who never entered one game for the Bulls—after the 2009-10 season.
And, that was the final chapter of his NBA résumé.
Thanks to Isiah, the Knicks and Jerome James will forever be joined at the hip for their involvement in one of the all-time worst NBA contracts. All told, New York flushed in excess of $16 million down the pisser on a waste of a roster spot.
Eddy Curry (6 Years, $60 Million)
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Entering the 2001 NBA Draft after graduating from Chicago’s Thornwood High, Eddy Curry was the consensus No. 1 ranked high school player in the nation. As the fourth overall selection, the 18-year-old Curry had the world at his fingertips.
In terms of sheer size and strength, Curry—who stood 6’11” and weighed 295 pounds—possessed Shaq-like physical attributes. With some hard work, experts assumed he’d be the next great center in the East.
While Curry showed promise, he certainly didn’t have the type of immediate impact that legendary players often do, although by the end of the 2004-05 campaign, Curry indeed proved valuable, with averages of 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and nearly one block per outing.
Some mysterious events transpired down the home stretch of that season; Curry missed the final 13 regular season games and the playoffs due to an irregular heartbeat.
The Bulls cited Curry’s refusal to submit to a DNA test that would identify any potentially fatal hereditary affliction to his heart as the primary reason they unexpectedly sent him packing to New York in what was a complex trade.
Still looking to fill the void at center left by Patrick Ewing's departure five years earlier, Isiah Thomas and the Knicks gambled on the possible health risk and signed Curry for six years and $60 million.
Curry’s inaugural season in the Big Apple was particularly bland, but 2006-07 was his coming-out party, and it seemed the addition of Curry would be paying dividends for the next four seasons.
At the ripe age of 24, Curry averaged 19.5 points and seven rebounds and was someone the team could begin to build around.
The big man had blossomed quickly, but a string of injuries and personal problems would derail his career in New York before it even got off the ground.
The night before training camp in 2007, Curry was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness, and his fall from grace began.
From that point on, Curry was never able to regain his conditioning, and he played just 26 minutes a night—a nine-minute drop-off from the previous season.
Although Curry would not conform to Mike D’Antoni’s style, the coach was always willing to give the center a chance. But, a torn calf muscle at the opening of the 2008-09 season and a strained hamstring suffered during 2009 training camp put up continuous barriers.
Never able to get back into shape, Curry ballooned to as much as 350 pounds and only set foot on the court on 10 occasions between 2008 and 2010. Clearly out of the loop at the inception of the 2010-11 season, Curry was Jerome James reincarnated.
Six years and $45 million later, yet another successor to Ewing had failed to live up to expectations.
Allan Houston (6 Years, $100 Million)
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This one should come as no surprise, and Knicks fans would probably categorize Allan Houston’s fully-guaranteed, six-year, $100 million deal as the ultimate blunder among blunders.
Houston was a model athlete off the court and one of the NBA’s most lethal shooters on it, but your guess is as good as mine as to what was going on in ex-GM Scott Layden’s head on the warm summer evening of July 5, 2001.
That was when the alleged sit-down took place in which Houston officially became the highest paid player in the illustrious history of the New York Knickerbockers and one of the wealthiest NBA players, second to Kevin Garnett.
He had been an All-Star for two consecutive seasons, but at 30, Houston was undeserving of a contract that would keep him around until he turned 36—a nine-figure contract, no less.
During his first two seasons, Houston held up his end of the bargain with the highest scoring averages of his career.
The 2002-03 campaign was the sole instance in 12 seasons that Houston topped the 20 points-per-game mark, at 21.4. He also started all 82 games that year.
Then, it all came crashing to a halt.
The following season, Houston posted very respectable numbers, but his legs began to give out. Chronic knee pain contributed to his being sidelined for 32 games.
By the 2004-05 season, the writing was on the wall; the Knicks front office had made a terrible mistake. Houston was limited to 20 appearances and averaged career lows in almost every major statistical category since his rookie year.
Next came the retirement announcement. Four years into the deal, the stress on his lower extremities had finished him.
Houston attempted to mount a comeback with the Knicks on three separate occasions, most recently in 2009. However, he wound up being cut.
New York was on the hook for roughly $40 million following Houston’s decision to call it quits.
While Houston is frequently cast in a negative light, you cannot blame him for what his body did. He had always trained hard and maintained an excellent physique.
On the other hand, you can hold the Knicks brass liable for their sudden whim to place such an obscene wager on a single player, knowing if he flopped, it would set the organization back years.
At least since his playing days ended, Houston’s kept close ties to the team that made him filthy rich and has been employed by the Knicks in some capacity. In fact, he’ll likely be promoted to general manager a few years down the line.
Larry Brown (5 Years, $50-60 Million)
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When New York signed Larry Brown to be the new head coach in 2005, many believed he was the second-coming of Pat Riley.
Evidently, Isiah Thomas and James Dolan did too and promptly rewarded Brown—fresh off two straight NBA Finals appearances with the Detroit Pistons—with a five-year contract worth somewhere in the ballpark of $50-60 million.
Soon to follow would be arguably the Knicks’ most controversial season to date.
Finishing 23-59, which incidentally is New York’s poorest record ever, Brown’s regime was destined for abomination. Brown was unable to convince his players—most notably Stephon Marbury, with whom he openly feuded—to buy into his philosophy.
Things got ugly when Brown opposed a buyout and forced Thomas to fire him. In spite of losing out on four more years of coaching, Brown still walked away with a cool $18.5 million settlement.
Brown had too much pride to leave on such a sour note and returned to the coaching scene in 2008 with the Charlotte Bobcats. He led Charlotte to a first-round playoff loss in his second season before abruptly stepping down 28 games into the 2010-11 season.
The coach who is synonymous with the word "drama" is approaching 71 years of age, but basketball is all Brown’s ever known. He’ll resurface sooner or later to keep another drowning team afloat.
Patrick Ewing (4 Years, $60 Million)
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Yes, it’s appalling to find the face of the franchise and one of the NBA’s 50 greatest on this list, but Patrick Ewing was the NBA’s version of Derek Jeter 14 years ago.
At 34 years young and with 12 NBA seasons to his credit, Patrick Ewing received a four-year, $60 million deal from the Knicks in the summer of 1997.
By year two of the contract, Ewing reached uncharted territory with a scoring average below 20, and the wear and tear on his body had become all too apparent.
After managing to play in only 26 games during the 1997-98 season as a result of torn ligaments in his wrist, Ewing was so banged up during the strike-shortened season the following year that he didn’t even dress for the 1999 NBA Finals.
In the third year of the deal, Ewing expressed an interest in signing a two-year extension that would make him a Knick through the 2002-03 campaign. Unable to compromise with the Knicks front office, Ewing requested a trade.
Prior to the 2000-01 season, New York bid Ewing farewell by way of a blockbuster trade which landed him with the Seattle Supersonics.
Just as Jeter has meant so much to the New York Yankees, the Knicks and their fanbase will forever be indebted to Ewing.
Although the money could have been better spent elsewhere, it’s difficult to turn your back on a player who has matured into an icon before your own eyes and stayed so loyal to the team that drafted him.
New York paid $44 million over that three-year stretch for a player in the twilight of his career, but the Knicks faithful will tell you it was the right thing to do.