On This Date: Knicks acquire Tim Thomas

February 15th 2004: Knicks acquire Tim Thomas & Nazr Mohammed 

Isiah Thomas decided to make some noise during All Star Weekend, despite having no All Stars, by acquiring Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed in a three-way trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks. The Knicks sent Keith Van Horn to the Milwaukee Bucks and Michael Doleac and a 2005 2nd round pick (Ronny Turiaf) to the Hawks. The deal was one of the final steps in unwinding the Scott Layden era.

Isiah Thomas publicly admitted in looking for players who were young, athletic, and exciting for fans. Thomas, then 26, originally hailed from Paterson, NJ and was an athletic wing that Isiah believed could blossom in New York. Mohammed, then 26, was more of an offensive threat that could complement Dikembe Mutombo in the center rotation.

Keith Van Horn never fully meshed during his short tenure in New York. Additionally, he had a long brewing feud with Stephon Marbury dating back to their days with the New Jersey Nets. Michael Doleac was just an adequate backup center during his 1+ years with the team.

Unfortunately, neither player had a long future with the team. Tim Thomas’ two years with the Knicks were largely forgettable outside of the “fugazy” moment during the 2004 NBA Playoffs against Kenyon Martin and a slick pass he received from Stephon Marbury:

Thomas was later dealt to the Bulls in the Eddy Curry trade and re-acquired for a short period in the 2008-09 season.

Nazr Mohammed was a serviceable starting center for the team before being dealt to the San Antonio Spurs for Malik Rose and two 1st round picks that turned out to become David Lee and Mardy Collins. Ironically, Mardy Collins was dealt in the 2008-09 season in the deal to re-acquire Tim Thomas.

On This Date: Knicks fire Don Chaney

January 14, 2004:  The Don Chaney era ends

The Don Chaney era came to an end on this date as Isiah Thomas fired him shortly before their impending game against the Orlando Magic. After going through a morning shootaround, Chaney and assistant coaches Brendan Malone & Lon Kruger received notice that they were relieved of their duties.

The news came of no surprise to Chaney, outside of perhaps the timing of the firing. Despite serving as an assistant coach under both Don Nelson and Jeff Van Gundy, Chaney wasn’t able to replicate their success. He was 72-112 in the 2+ seasons as head coach of the Knicks. He took over the interim coaching duties after Jeff Van Gundy suddenly resigned. Chaney inherited a roster of aging veterans, fringe youth players, and injury-prone players. Both Marcus Camby & Antonio McDyess missed significant chunks of games with injuries during his tenure.

At the time of the firing, the Knicks were 15-24. Despite rumors of hiring Chuck Daly & Mike Fratello, Isiah instead selected Lenny Wilkens as the new head coach. Wilkens, a Brooklyn native, returned home after the Raptors fired him at the end of the 2002-03 season. Wilkens had moderate success as the Knicks head coach with a 40-41 record and a playoff berth in his first season. He resigned midway during the 2004-05 season and ultimately retired from coaching.


January 14, 2018:  Knicks call up Trey Burke

The Knicks called up Trey Burke from the Westchester Knicks on this date. Burke initially signed with the Knicks during the preseason, but was waived only a few days later. Rather than playing overseas or with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as originally rumored, Burke decided to hone his point guard skills with the Westchester Knicks.

After having a solid rookie season, Burke gradually fell out of the rotation between his stints with the Jazz & Wizards. Knowing that his success in the NBA would hinge on his point guard skills, he found an opportunity in the G-League as a prime opportunity to develop. While in the G-League, Burke averaged 26.6 points, 2.7 threes/game, 5.5 assists/game, and 1.9 steals/game.

Burke had a sizzling start to his Knicks career, including a 42-point game against the Charlotte Hornets. Burke has had a rough start to the 2018-19 season after suffering strings of DNPs and a mild MCL sprain. Despite the minor setbacks, his stint in the G-League will forever ingrain the work ethic needed to earn minutes in the NBA.

On This Date: Knicks acquire Stephon Marbury, and eleven years later, trade away JR Smith

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:

Suns Acquire:

Howard Eisley
Antonio McDyess
Maciej Lampe
Charlie Ward
Draft Rights to: Milos Vujanic
Knicks 2004 1st Round Pick (Kirk Synder)
Knicks 2010 1st Round Pick (Gordon Hayward)

Knicks Acquire:

Stephon Marbury
Penny Hardaway
Cezary Trybanksi

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.

On This Date: Dikembe Mutombo sets Knick record with 10 blocks in a game

January 4, 2004: Dikembe Mutombo set a Knicks record with 10 blocks in a game.

In Dikembe Mutombo’s one-year stint with the Knicks, he miraculously set a franchise record with 10 blocks in a game. He achieved the feat in a 95-85 loss against the New Jersey Nets. He blocked 10 shots in 42 minutes, an impressive mark at 37 years of age.

Known for his iconic finger wag after blocking opponents’ shots, the Knicks signed Mutombo after the Nets bought him out shortly following the beginning of training camp. The Knicks previously had interest in Mutombo during the 2001 trade deadline (the Hawks shipped him to Philadelphia) and the summer of 2002 (the 76ers traded him to the Nets).

Mutombo represented a true center, one the Knicks lacked since Marcus Camby’s departure. At 7’2, he also represented a legitimate big man who could provide intimidation in the paint. The Knicks blocked a paltry 3.1 shots/game in the 2002-03 season, 29th in the league. In the 2003-04 season, Mutombo averaged 1.9 blocks/game and helped the Knicks block 4.8 shots/game, 16th in the league. His presence on the defensive end eventually helped the Knicks make the playoffs for the 1st time since the 2000-01 season.

The Knicks later traded Mutombo in a deal with the Chicago Bulls that netted Jamal Crawford in a sign-and-trade.

On This Date: Knicks acquire Moochie Norris

December 30, 2003: Knicks acquire Moochie Norris in a trade with the Houston Rockets

New GM Isiah Thomas made his first trade with the Knicks by acquiring Moochie Norris & John Amaechi for Clarence Weatherspoon. Originally a 2nd round draft pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Norris spent most of his career as a backup point guard with various teams in the NBA and the Continental Basketball Association. He spent the previous 3+ seasons with the Houston Rockets backing up Steve Francis.

Norris received a 6-year, $23M deal before the 2001-02 season. However, his production never matched his contract. Norris scored a career-high 8.1 points/game and started 26 games in the 2001-02 season, but his production decreased heading into the trade.

Amaechi never played a game with the Knicks. Isiah waived him shortly after the trade and retired afterwards. Amaechi never played a game with the Rockets after being acquired in September 2003. 

Clarence Weatherspoon fell out of favor in the Knicks rotation due to injuries, lack of production, and a glut of PFs. (Kurt Thomas, Othella Harrington, Mike Sweetney) Scott Layden erroneously gave Weatherspoon a 5 year $27 million contract in the summer of 2001.

Norris played sparingly after the trade due to the Stephon Marbury trade and the emergence of Frank Williams. Norris was ultimately traded back to Houston in the following year for Mo Taylor.

On This Date: Knicks waive Slavko Vranes

December 24, 2003: The New York Knicks waived Slavko Vranes

In Isiah Thomas’ first official move as Knicks GM, he waived Slavko Vranes, picked 39th in the 2003 NBA Draft. Vranes never played a game with the Knicks despite suiting up in Summer League and preseason. Right patella tendinitis sidelined Vranes since opening day. At the time, Isiah desired players who could immediately contribute to the team and not long-range projects.

Vranes – at a height of around 7’5 – would have been the tallest Knick in team history had he played a regular season game. Vranes later signed a 10-day contract with the Portland Trailblazers and played all of 3 scoreless minutes. He left the NBA in his rookie season to cultivate a career overseas in Europe and Asia. He was a member of the Montenegro National Basketball Team.  

Vranes was Scott Layden’s final draft pick made. Unfortunately, there were quite a few players – Willie Green, Keith Bogans, Zaza Pachulia, Matt Bonner, Mo Williams, James Jones, Kyle Korver – who had long careers in the NBA and some of whom currently play as of today.

On This Date: Latrell Sprewell returns to MSG to taunt James Dolan and Micheal Ray Richardson records a franchise record with 9 steals in a game

Decenber 23, 2003: Latrell Sprewell returns to Madison Square Garden to taunt James Dolan

Latrell Sprewell returned to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves and got the last laugh in a 98-92 victory against the Knicks. Spree scored 31 points and combined for 84 points with Kevin Garnett & Sam Cassell2 in the victory.  

Spree repeatedly hurled profanities toward Knicks owner James Dolan during his patented revenge game. It came to the point where Spree received a technical near the end of the 4th quarter for sparring with Knicks assistant coach Lon Kruger. Kruger told Spree to quit the taunting. The NBA later fined Spree $25,000 for excessive taunting.

Spree & Dolan have had an acrimonious relationship during the latter’s tenure as principal owner of the Knicks. Spree angered Dolan by leaving early from several team-mandated media training sessions. He also suffered the inexcusable boating accident shortly before the 2002-03 season. Dolan had enough of Spree’s “character issues” and ordered then-GM Scott Layden to trade him.

Fortunately, Spree & Dolan reconciled in 2017. We now see Spree courtside at Knicks games or attending various team alumni and charitable events.


December 23, 1980: Micheal Ray Richardson sets a Knick record with 9 steals in a game

In the 117-114 loss against the Chicago Bulls, Micheal “Sugar” Ray Richardson set a Knicks record with nine steals in a game. Sugar Ray had a statline of 19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 9 steals.

Despite his short tenure with the Knicks, Sugar Ray was adroit in passing the ball and showed a penchant for stealing the ball. His 2,244 assists in four seasons still remains the 10th highest mark in team history. His 810 steals is remarkably 3rd all-time in Knicks franchise history.

On This Date: Knicks fire Scott Layden and hire Isiah Thomas

December 22, 2003: Knicks fire Scott Layden and hire Isiah Thomas

The Scott Layden era finally came to an end on this date in Knicks history. In Layden’s 4.5 years with the organization, the Knicks went 175-181, but had a decreasing record each season and missed the playoffs in the previous two seasons to his firing. 

Layden’s most notorious transactions include trading away Patrick Ewing, signing Allan Houston to a $100 million contract, acquiring Antonio McDyess, and trading Latrell Sprewell.  

The motif of his transaction history was the acquisition of players at or beyond their prime, players that lack athleticism, and players that are often significantly overpaid. The rosters he built lacked the athleticism, youthful exuberance, and above the rim play to compete in the modern NBA of the early 2000s.

Despite the highest payroll in the league, the team lacked excitement and it reflected appropriately when the Knicks’ 433 home sellout streak snapped during the 2002-03 season. 

The Knicks decided to hire Isiah Thomas after a recommendation from close friend Magic Johnson.2 Dolan originally offered the position to Magic, but he declined and instead recommended Isiah for the position.

Isiah was originally a minority owner and president of basketball operations for the Toronto Raptors. Under his tenure, the team drafted Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, and Tracy McGrady.  Isiah resigned in 1997 due to conflicts with the majority owners of the team. Isiah went to coach the Indiana Pacers for 3 seasons.  The Pacers fired him, at the behest of new president Larry Bird, after multiple first round exits.

Isiah spent the first few seasons in New York untangling many of Scott Layden’s transactions. However, he quickly got mired in his own set of problems that slowly destroyed his tenure with the organization. 

 

On This Date: Allan Houston passes Richie Guerin to become the 5th leading scorer in team history

December 14, 2003: Allan Houston passes Richie Guerin to be 5th all-time on the Knicks scoring list

Allan Houston passed Richie Guerin to become 5th on the Knicks all-time scoring list (10,392 points). Houston scored 39 points on 12-19 from the field and 12-12 from the free throw line to lead the Knicks to a 89-87 victory against the Washington Wizards in MSG. He hit the go-ahead basket with 18 seconds left.

The game sadly marked one of the few remaining highlights in Houston’s NBA career.

Houston underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee in June 2003.  Prior to the surgery, Houston only missed 19 regular season games to that point. He had just finished the second year of his $100 million contract and played nearly 38 minutes a game during the first two seasons of the contract.

Ultimately, Houston faced chronic pain in both knees post-surgery. Despite averaging 18.5 points a game in the 2003-04 season, Houston missed 32 games with chronic knee injuries and didn’t play in the playoffs against the New Jersey Nets. The knee injuries persisted into the 2004-05 season and limited Houston to only 20 games played.

Houston retired only weeks before the beginning of the 2005-06 season. At the time, he still felt chronic knee pain and had 2 more years remaining on his contract. Despite retiring, he attempted to make a comeback in both the 2007 and 2008 training camps. Houston played 6 minutes in one 2007 preseason game and didn’t play in any 2008 preseason games.

Ironically, the NBA CBA created the “Allan Houston” rule meant to create a one-time amnesty of a player’s contract counting against the luxury tax. The Knicks were well above the luxury tax threshold and most expected the team to use the provision on Allan Houston. However, the Knicks used the exception on Jerome Williams.

Donnie Walsh hired Houston to be assistant to the president after his 2008 training camp stint. Walsh later promoted him to assistant GM where he remains to this date. He is the general manager of the Westchester Knicks G-League team.

On This Date: Antonio McDyess makes his Knicks regular season debut and Stephon Marbury is banished from team

December 1, 2003: Antonio McDyess makes his Knicks regular season debut against the Detroit Pistons

Antonio McDyess finally made his Knicks regular season debut in a 79-78 overtime loss against the Detroit Pistons. McDyess was on a minutes restriction and only played 13 minutes. He had a meager statline of 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block.

This game was 100 games into the making for McDyess. He missed the entire 2002-03 season with a broken kneecap suffered on a putback dunk in the preseason. The injury dampened the excitement heading into the season, especially after McDyess averaged more than 17 points and 13 rebounds in the preseason.2

The McDyess trade was largely meant to get the Knicks back into the playoffs and provide an athletic frontcourt presence to complement Latrell Sprewell & Allan Houston. The Knicks sorely lacked an athletic frontcourt presence that could score with explosiveness, rebound, and defend, perhaps dating back to Patrick Ewing before the wrist injuries. McDyess was expected to fill that gap.

Even though McDyess missed most of the 2001-02 season with knee surgeries, he looked healthy heading into the preseason and through half of the preseason before the injuries. The injury left the Knicks with a gaping hole in the frontcourt that badly needed a jolt of athleticism, interior scoring, and shot blocking. While Kurt Thomas played his part as the starting center, the loss of McDyess added an additional strain on Houston & Sprewell to provide the entire offense for the team.

McDyess only played 18 games with the Knicks in the 2003-04 season. He showed minor flashes of his fabled athleticism, but was largely a relic of what he once was.  Without Sprewell on the roster, traded for Keith Van Horn, the Knicks never got to fully realize the potential trio.  McDyess was subsequently traded to the Phoenix Suns for Stephon Marbury.

McDyess made the NBA Finals in the following season with the Detroit Pistons.2 He reinvented his game to rely less on athleticism and more on intellect and craftiness. Consequently, he was able to stay relatively healthy for the rest of his career, missing only 41 games over 7 years and even playing 82 games in consecutive seasons.


December 1, 2008: Stephon Marbury banished from Knicks

The Knicks officially told Stephon Marbury to stay away from the team, effectively banishing him and ending his Knicks tenure.

After coming to New York with fanfare and excitement, returning back to the city he grew up in, Marbury’s tenure as a Knick was unfortunately marred in chaos and losing. After making the playoffs in his first season, Marbury fell victim to the Knicks’ losing environment. He famously proclaimed he was the greatest point guard in the NBA in the 2004-05 season, before the Knicks’ record tanked and Lenny Wilkens concurrently resigned as head coach.

Marbury conflicted with most of his head coaches from Larry Brown to former friend, Isiah Thomas, to Mike D’Antoni. The Larry Brown saga led to the beginning of the end of Marbury’s dominance on the court. His on-court production declined and dropped to career lows in the 2007-08 season.

The 2007-08 season marked the first visible conflicts between Marbury & the Knicks. Marbury went AWOL earlier in the season and effectively ended his Knicks career in January 2008 after electing to have left ankle surgery without approval from the Knicks medical staff.

With the Mike D’Antoni hire and Marbury’s impending expiring contract, there was a great likelihood of Marbury never playing a game with the Knicks. Despite the rumors, Marbury did play well in the preseason. However, D’Antoni took Marbury out of the rotation to begin the season. The relationship became irreconcilable once Marbury refused to play in a game where the Knicks were severely undermanned following the Jamal Crawford & Zach Randolph trade.

The Knicks suspended him for a game and told him to stay away from the team on December 1st. He was later waived in February and joined the Boston Celtics to finish his NBA career. Despite the turmoil in the NBA, Marbury rejuvenated his career playing in China and will forever be known as a hero in the country after winning 3 championships in the Chinese Basketball Association.