October 9th 2003: The New York Knicks sign Dikembe Mutombo
In desperate need for a big man, the New York Knicks signed free agent Dikembe Mutombo, and his iconic finger wag, to a 2 year contract. Mutombo, then 37, still proved to be a shot blocker that the Knicks lacked for more than 2 seasons. Additionally, Mutombo was one of the taller Knicks on a roster that often featured big men shorter than 6’10.
Mutombo played in 65 games for the Knicks and averaged 1.9 blocks/game. His 123 blocked shots were the most in a season since Marcus Camby in 2001 and wasn’t surpassed until Amare Stoudemire in 2011 (150 blocked shots). He blocked 10 shots in a game against the New Jersey Nets in January 2004, a team record that still stands to this date.
August 5th 2004: The New York Knicks acquire Jamal Crawford
The New York Knicks acquired Jamal Crawford in a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls. The Knicks acquired 24 year old Crawford and Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams from the Bulls for Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Frank Williams, and Cezary Trybanksi. Crawford signed a 7 year $56 million deal.
Crawford quickly inserted himself as the starting shooting guard alongside Stephon Marbury. While not the most efficient scorer, Crawford was a walking bucket with a penchant to hit 3s at a very high rate and a decent passing ability for a combo guard. Under Larry Brown, Crawford reverted into a 6th man role. While not fully comfortable in the role, Crawford foreshadowed his future in the league.
Despite the turmoil within the Knicks, Crawford had several highlight moments with the team including some game-winning baskets, a highlight self-pass and dunk, and a career high 52 points against the Miami Heat.
To clear up cap space for 2010, the Knicks traded Crawford to the Golden State Warriors for Al Harrington. Crawford cemented his role as a proficient 6th man and won the award 3 times. Over his entire NBA career, Crawford has built a reputation of being a great teammate and consummate professional.
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.
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.