Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Thursday, August 5, 2004
These moves aren't so smooth

By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com

With all due respect to my esteemed colleague and compadre Chad Ford: What the heck is Isiah thinking?

Erick Dampier
Erick Dampier would be another Knick who's been around but won nothing.
Yes, Isiah Thomas has transformed the New York Knicks with a bigger shakeup than the top tiers of Martha Stewart Living OmniMedia.

But have you ever seen one of those scenes in a movie where a little weasly white guy in a confrontational circumstance pulls out a bunch of flailing karate moves that are supposed to intimidate his tormentor but actually do nothing but expose him for a fraud and tire him out all at the same time?

That would be Isiah Thomas revamping the New York Knicks.

He's made a bunch of moves, yet he's standing there with little to show for it and he's plumb tuckered out -- for many many years to come.

If, in fact, Isiah signs Erick Dampier to go with a sign-and-trade deal for Jamal Crawford that essentially eliminates any future flexibility he may have had, well, in my mind that is figuratively putting the cement shoes -- why has Nike not made a pair of those yet? -- on the Knicks and throwing them in the East River on a frigid January day.

Yes, I agree, some of the Knicks' pieces certainly look good, to go with Stephon Marbury and Allan Houston. But now more than ever I am a big believer in chemistry, and when you really get right down to it, the collection of players Isiah has assembled has really accomplished very little in their respective careers, and they have had plenty of time to do it.

Let's start at the top: Your first inclination is to say that Marbury still is a young player. But guess what? He's been in the league now for eight seasons. Ten. You know how many playoff games he has been in in that span? Eighteen. And he's never been out of the first round.

You want further evidence? Guess who is one of the key players on the Olympic basketball team that is having so much difficulty beating the global competition? That's right, the self-proclaimed Starbury.

Speaking of the Olympic team, I found it amusing that coach Larry Brown lamented that the team is struggling because it is very young. Guess what the combined salaries of the roster totals? Together they make $83.33 million, or an average of $7 million a player. I guess if they had thrown out their $137.23 million team, they'd be breezing. But if nothing else, the Olympic team is the perfect correlation for the Knicks, proof positive that you can't just throw a bunch of players on the court and expect them to win.

Call me a doubting Thomas -- or just a really poor punster -- but I simply don't think that Isiah Thomas' idea of having Kurt Thomas and Tim Thomas together is going to work.

Tim Thomas has been in the league nine years, playing a grand total of 33 playoff games. He's going to make $13 million this season for career averages of 12 points and four rebounds, something that prompted Ray Allen to call him out as a quantifiable underachiever, for which Tim Thomas threatened to beat up Allen, which to my knowledge has yet to occur, apparently another missed opportunity.

Kurt Thomas, signed at sizable dollars through 2008-09, has 48 career playoff games in nine years with career postseason averages of 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Since he left Orlando in 1999, Penny Hardaway has played in a grand total of 18 playoffs games. By comparison, his sophomore season in Orlando, he played in 21 postseason games.

Nazr Mohammed is another guy you are tempted to say is young, but he has been in the league six seasons, during which he has played seven playoff games and has never advanced past the first round. He has career averages of 6.7 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Since leaving the sheltered cocoon of Utah, Shandon Anderson has averaged seven points and three rebounds, for which he is going to make $7.4 million this season. His career has been in a downward spiral since the Rockets discovered he wasn't the player they thought he would be as soon as he stopped playing alongside Stockton and Malone.

Allan Houston is the biggest conundrum because he clearly is talented. He also clearly is frustrating, going into long spells of quietude during a season and seemingly disappearing at important junctures.

All of this averageness and mediocrity has me wondering why Isiah has become so enamored with the likes of Dampier and Crawford, two players who post halfway decent numbers only because they are on really, really bad teams. The only thing I can think of is Isiah needs to keep his string going of doing something, even if that something is detrimental.

To wit, Dampier has been in the league eight seasons and has never been to the playoffs. His career record in Golden State was 172-370, and in many ways he reminds me of former Warriors center Joe Barry Carroll, better known as Joe Barely Cares, which should endear him to Garden fans rather quickly. (This does not even touch on the ludicrous idea that he opted out of a two-year contract that would have paid him $9 million a year and is going to give up at least $5 million this season because he thought he was worth more.)

It would be one thing if Isiah had compiled a bunch of young players with a lot of potential who had the chance to grow together. But he has pieced together a litany of career losers, none of whom has the experience or wherewithal to lead the Knicks where every New Yorker demands they go.
In his four seasons in Chicago, Crawford has compiled an astonishing 89-239 record while shooting 39 percent from the field, 34 percent from 3-point range. He has been so unimpressive that his hometown team, the Sonics, once enamored with him enough to discuss trading Gary Payton for him, now wouldn't touch him, in part because he plays zero defense and in part because he never seems to be playing within the system.

It would be one thing if Isiah had compiled a bunch of young players with a lot of potential who had the chance to grow together. But he has pieced together a litany of career losers, none of whom has the experience or wherewithal to lead the Knicks where every New Yorker demands they go. Of the nine core players, they are averaging their ninth season in the league. That should be plenty of time to establish a career path, and in this case, sadly, they have.

On top of that, what is the plan? Who is going to play where? Crawford griped for years about coming off the bench in Chicago; now ostensibly he will go to New York to come off the bench behind either Marbury or Houston. I can just see Crawford and Marbury arguing about which player will bring the ball up the court so they can get the team into its offense (read: which one of them gets to shoot.)

Where do Tim Thomas and Anderson, who combined to make almost $20 million while averaging less than 20 points combined, fit in on a team that has enough scorers/shooters? If Vin Baker is re-signed -- and don't even get me started on the intelligence of that decision -- where does that put the development of Mike Sweetney. Is Allan Houston done, or still a prime-time player?

All in all, it looks to me like New York fans had better get used to a lot of mediocre basketball that includes a lot of first-round exits from the playoffs for several years to come. That's all well and good for a team that previously was not in the playoffs at all, but that's not what I remember Isiah promising.

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.