January 5, 2004: The New York Knicks acquire Stephon Marbury
In the first major transaction of the Isiah Thomas era, the Knicks acquired Stephon Marbury in a blockbuster trade with the Phoenix Suns. The trade included the following players/picks:
Draft Rights to: Milos Vujanic
Knicks 2004 1st Round Pick (Kirk Synder)
Knicks 2010 1st Round Pick (Gordon Hayward)
The trade brought Marbury near to where he grew up in Coney Island. Marbury always showed New York a lot of support and spent his summers playing in Rucker Park. He was a part of Fat Joe’s Terror Squad team and was supposed to play in the highly anticipated 2003 matchup against Jay-Z’s S. Carter team. Unfortunately, the game never happened because of the infamous Northeast blackout.1
From a basketball perspective, Marbury completely changed the composition of the team. For one, the Knicks finally found a star PG who was young (Marbury was 26 at the time of the end) and dynamic.
The Knicks were mired in mediocrity the previous few seasons due to a roster that lacked athleticism and youthful energy. Marbury immediately brought both into the fold. Isiah – a point guard himself – understood the importance of having a playmaker. He saw the Knicks manhandled by point guards such as Jason Kidd, Sam Cassell, and Jamal Crawford, and he knew a trade was necessary to reverse the fortunes of the team.
Penny Hardaway arrived in New York as a relic of his better days. He had a relatively productive first season with the Knicks as a bench player. Injuries sidelined him for most of the following two seasons before the team traded him to the Orlando Magic in 2006 for Steve Francis. Trybanski only played 3 games for the Knicks and the team traded him to the Bulls as part of the Jamal Crawford sign-and-trade.
The trade, along with the Lenny Wilkens hire, amongst others, helped the Knicks win 39 games and make the playoffs as the 8th seed. Unfortunately, the playoff berth marked the high point of Marbury’s career. The culmination of losses, conflicts with coaches, and off-the-court scandals ruined Marbury’s tenure with the team. His support from the front office to fans to even beat reporters (Yes, Isola had a close relationship with him too) soured as his play suffered and his controversies represented his only highlights. The combination of the above led to his release in 2009.
In retrospect, the trade, at the time, was a necessary move to reverse the direction of the team. However, Isiah neglected to consider the importance of draft picks and roster construction around Marbury. The trade immediately added a significant amount of salary and restricted the Knicks from making any major moves in free agency. The Stephon Marbury era remains a disappointing moment in franchise history.
January 5, 2015: The JR Smith era ends
Phil Jackson continued the process to clean house by trading both JR Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-way trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers & Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks received Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas, Alex Kirk, and the Cavs 2019 2nd round draft pick. JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and the OKC 2016 1st round pick (Furkan Korkmaz) went to the Cavaliers. Dion Waiters went to the Thunder in the trade.
The trade helped the Knicks clear additional salary cap space while removing the team of players that didn’t fit with their future plans. JR Smith never meshed in the triangle offense and was largely a malcontent during his years with the Knicks. Iman Shumpert was on the last year of his rookie deal and injuries mostly hampered his production on the team.
Contrary to public opinion at the time, Lou Amundson & Lance Thomas did play a role on the team. While Phil immediately cut all three players acquired, he re-signed Lou & Lance to successive 10-day contracts and eventually for the remainder of the season. For a 17-win team, both players brought a level of professionalism, toughness, and ability to run the team’s offense. With a lot of younger players on the roster, especially after the Carmelo Anthony injury, these traits were integral to the team.
Both players served as mentors to our rookies, particularly to Kristaps Porzingis & Frank Ntilikina. The Knicks rewarded Lance – a NY native – with a 4-year, $27 million extension in 2016. While he’s probably well overpaid, the Knicks valued the intangibles he brought to the team. The players in the locker room view him as the de facto captain and he’s served the role well so far.