On This Date: Bill Cartwright/Charles Oakley trade

June 27th 1988: The New York Knicks trade Bill Cartwright for Charles Oakley in a draft-day trade

The New York Knicks completed one of the more successful draft-day deals in franchise history when they traded Bill Cartwright to the Chicago Bulls for Charles Oakley and a 1st and 3rd round pick swap in the 1988 NBA Draft.

Cartwright largely felt out of place in New York as Patrick Ewing cemented his role as the franchise cornerstone at center. While Charles Oakley had dominant rebounding seasons with the Bulls, he was deemed expendable after the team drafted Horace Grant in the previous season. As the Knicks needed a true power forward and the Bulls needed a formidable center, this swap made perfect sense.

Additionally, the pick swap gave the Bulls the 11th pick and the Knicks the 19th pick. To further shore up the frontcourt, the Bulls drafted Will Perdue. The Knicks drafted Rod Strickland, despite having Rookie of the Year Mark Jackson as the team’s main point guard. Strickland was traded to the Spurs in his sophomore season after demanding a trade due to a lack of playing minutes.

Ultimately, the trade proved to be a win-win for both teams. Cartwright enjoyed several productive seasons with the Bulls including winning 3 championships during Jordan’s first three-peat. Oakley served as the Knicks’ power forward for 10 seasons and was the perfect frontcourt partner for Ewing. Some of his accomplishments included making an NBA All Star Game and earning a selection to the NBA All Defensive Team in 1994.

On This Date: Maurice Cheeks hits go-ahead basket to defeat the Bucks

March 3rd 1990: Maurice Cheeks hits the go-ahead bucket to help the Knicks defeat the Bucks

Maurice Cheeks stepped up in the end of the 4th quarter to lead the Knicks to a 106-105 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. Cheeks entered the game with 4:22 left replacing Mark Jackson, who struggled mightily from the field and on the defensive end. Cheeks hit the go-ahead basket with 39 seconds left to put the Knicks up 102-101 and clinch victory.

After the Knicks shipped Rod Strickland to the Spurs, the team expected Cheeks to provide veteran leadership at the point guard that neither Hot Rod or Mark Jackson provided. While the team was 34-17 before the trade, the Knicks struggled throughout most of March, enduring a 6 game losing streak and a 3 game losing streak in the month. The Knicks ultimately made the playoffs and reached the Eastern Conference where they lost to the impending champion Detroit Pistons.

On This Date: Knicks trade Rod Strickland

February 21st 1990: Knicks trade Rod Strickland for Mo Cheeks

Weeks after sophomore PG, and NY native, Rod Strickland demanded a trade due to lack of playing time, the Knicks obliged and dealt him to the San Antonio Spurs for Mo Cheeks.

The NY tandem of Mark Jackson and Hot Rod did not have a long lifespan. Despite playing well in his rookie season under Rick Pitino, the slow-paced offense run under Stu Jackson wasn’t conducive for a two-PG tandem that were both talented and hungry for minutes. Additionally, Coach Jackson often benched Hot Rod due to his lack of defense.

The trade ended up being a short-term win for the Knicks. Cheeks brought a steady veteran presence to a Knicks squad that reached the playoffs in his 2 seasons with the team. He took over the starting PG duties in the 1990-91 season after then-interim coach John MacLeod benched Jackson after a heated argument alongside GM Al Bianchi. The Knicks traded Cheeks shortly before the 1991-92 season for a 1st round pick that eventually became Charlie Ward.

Meanwhile, Rod Strickland became an above-average starting PG for the Spurs, Blazers, and Washington Wizards, amongst other teams. While the Knicks and Hot Rod could have been a perfect match for the team, the presence of Mark Jackson made the marriage unsalvageable.

On This Date: Knicks score 133 to shock Pistons

November 23, 1988: Knicks utilize half-court trap and three pointers to shock the Detroit Pistons 133-111 in the Palace of Auburn Hills

The road to the championship for the Detroit Pistons, who went into the game 9-1, approached a bump in the road against Rick Pitino & the New York Knicks.  The combination of aggressive half-court traps and 3-point shots stifled the Pistons, who came into the game limiting opponents to only 98.6 points per game, a mark 2nd in the league.

Patrick Ewing led the way with 37 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, & 4 blocks and made 12-15 from the free throw line.  However, Johnny Newman & Trent Tucker played pivotal roles in the victory.  Newman & Tucker scored a combined 44 points on 8-13 from three.  The team overall shot 9-16 from three point distance.1

The game also showcased the combo point guard duo of Mark Jackson & Rod Strickland.  Both point guards got playing time together with the injury of Gerald Wilkins.  Jackson had a double double with 14 points and 14 assists.  Strickland had 9 points and 5 assists in 15 minutes.

The Pitino system frustrated the Pistons the entire night.  Pitino established the interior game with Ewing to draw fouls and open the floor for three point shots.  The team hit 35 free throws compared to 11 for the Pistons.  The aggressive trapping led to 22 Pistons turnovers and easy buckets (including threes) for the Knicks.  Future Knick GM Isiah Thomas committed 7 turnovers and, after the game, admitted the half-court press was “murder.”

On This Date: “Bomb Squad” roster wins their first regular season game against the Chicago Bulls

November 8th 1988:  Knicks win 1st game of the regular season to officially begin the “Bomb Squad” era

After losing the first two games of the regular season on the road, the Knicks got back into control in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Johnny Newman scored a then-career high 35 points in a 126-117 home victory against the Chicago Bulls in Madison Square Garden. Newman scored 35 efficiently, shooting 12-15 from the field, 2-3 from three, and 9-10 from the free throw line.  

Patrick Ewing, hampered with foul troubled during the first two regular season games, bounced back with 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Charles Oakley faced his former team for the 1st time and ended the game with a modest statline of 6 points and 6 rebounds.

The 1988-1989 season was famously known to fans as the “Bomb Squad” era.

20 years before Mike D’Antoni came into MSG to encourage his players to shoot more threes, Rick Pitino instructed his roster to perform the same task. Pitino believed it was necessary to surround Ewing with enough three point shooters to provide the big man with space to feast in the paint.

The Knicks set a record with 386 three pointers made and 1,147 attempted. The 1,147 was over 400 attempts higher than the record set in the previous season. The Knicks won 52 games in the regular season and Ewing led the team scoring 23 points a game while hitting a career high 57% from the field.

The “Bomb Squad” consisted of Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Trent Tucker, Johnny Newman, & Gerald Wilkins. Tucker shot 2-3 from three in the game and led the team with three pointers made during the season (118 made at 40%). Johnny Newman ended up tripling his three-point attempts from the season before and ended the year with 97 three-pointers made on 287 attempts (34%). Mark Jackson, in his sophomore season, doubled his three point attempts and ended the season shooting 81-240 from three in 72 games. Strickland funnily never got comfortable shooting threes and never shot many threes after leaving the Knicks.

The temptation of the NCAA and the recruiting power lured Pitino to the Kentucky Wildcats. The “Bomb Squad” era slowly flamed out as the team reverted back to attempting a more normal, or normal at the time, 710 three-pointers, which still ranked 5th in the league. Pitino brought a very innovative style of basketball to the Knicks and it only makes us wonder what would have happened if he remained with the team during Ewing’s prime.

On This Date: Charles Oakley makes his Knicks debut

November 4th 1988:  Charles Oakley makes his Knicks debut against the Boston Celtics

Charles Oakley made his Knicks debut and grabbed a double-double (11 points & 11 rebounds) in an 122-115 overtime loss against the Boston Celtics. Oakley was one of six players who scored in double figures that night. Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 28 points, while Mark Jackson and Johnny Newman both scored 19 points each.

The Chicago Bulls traded Oakley to the Knicks on the day of the 1988 NBA Draft for Bill Cartwright. Of the 9 trades between the Bulls & Knicks, this trade ended up being a win-win for both team. Oakley became expendable as a result of the rapid development of Horace Grant. The Knicks relegated Cartwright to be Ewing’s backup. New York needed a power forward who could rebound while the Bulls needed a center who could score. This trade met the demands of both teams.

Oakley anchored the power forward position for the next decade and used his toughness on both ends of the floor to help the team achieve more than a decade of playoff berths and an NBA finals appearance.

Cartwright immediately became the Bulls starting center. While he was not scoring a high number of points, he eventually was an integral part of the Bulls’ first championship trifecta.

One hidden gem in the Oakley trade was the swap of 1st round picks. The Bulls used the Knicks’ pick to draft Will Perdue. Perdue would be a decent backup center who was part of 4 championship teams in his NBA career.

The Knicks ended up drafting Rod Strickland. Although he had a solid rookie season in New York, he became frustrated as Mark Jackson’s backup and demanded a trade in the following year (reminds me of a former Knick last year). He was later shipped to the Spurs in for Maurice Cheeks.

P.S. there’s 3 degrees of separation between NYC basketball legends Rod Strickland & Stephon Marbury.  Can anyone guess the link?