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Shaun Powell
Can't escape Marbury mistake

March 15, 2005

Even now, with the warm and fuzzy optimism long since replaced by the cold truth, it's still interesting to Google back and read all the predictions of greatness that were made after The Trade.

"A perfect fit" said one newspaper headline.

"A great, great move" sensed one basketball expert.

"They can now see a championship from here" gushed another.

No, these weren't the reviews after the Heat stole Shaquille O'Neal, who blows into the Garden tonight. This was the reflex reaction around here 14 months ago when the Knicks obtained Stephon Marbury.

The response came quick, hard and heavy, and it was all good for the Knicks. It was "a Steph in the right direction," a catchy next-day headline that was gleefully repeated by a desperate basketball town.

Well, 51 wins and 57 losses later, the power of hindsight tells us something else about that day and that trade.

It tells us that getting Marbury was a Steph backward at worst, a Steph sideways at best.

Marbury has not rejuvenated the Knicks or satisfied New York's appetite for winning basketball. He has not been a difference-maker for the franchise. He has not drastically altered the direction of a team that's stuck in the same grave condition as he found it.

Here's what he has done: alienated some teammates, enhanced his reputation as a point guard who can't make his team better, and like most Knicks, eaten lots of salary-cap space.

Honestly, you expected more. You figured by now, in a conference that's pathetically weak, the Knicks would be taking the elevator up mostly because of Marbury, the star that every playoff team needs. You just knew that Jan. 5, 2004, would become a landmark date in team history, the day when basketball at the Garden rose from the rubble of rampant mismanagement.

You believed Marbury when he said back then: "It's a great situation. It's so overwhelming, it isn't even real. It's the best opportunity for the Knicks and it's the best opportunity for myself because they want to go places and I want to go places. And when I say places, I mean they want a championship and they want it now."

If anyone's closer to a championship today, it's the team that gave up Marbury. The Suns didn't get a starter in the deal, but took the money they saved by dumping the bloated contracts of Marbury and Penny Hardaway, signed Steve Nash and haven't at all regretted a trade that the Knicks swore was a robbery.

Isiah Thomas' decision to bring Marbury home was hailed as Auerbachian, but in several ways the Marbury trade has prevented the Knicks from laying the foundation for a winner. Just follow along and you'll see why.

The decision facing the Knicks then was to break it down or add contracts and patch it together. They chose the wrong door. Before the Marbury trade, the Knicks were in a tough spot, but not a hopeless one. They had only three bad contracts, belonging to Allan Houston, Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson.

At the time, Houston didn't have chronic knee problems and was marketable. The season before, he scored 53 against the Lakers and 50 against the Bucks. The month before Isiah took over the Knicks, Houston had a pair of 39-point games. He wasn't lame; he was still on his game.

Even with $70 million owed to him at the time, he could have been moved, as long as the Knicks wanted nothing back. The Kings recently did that with Chris Webber and the Hornets did it with Baron Davis. They gave them away.

The priority should've been subtracting Houston, not adding Marbury, and starting over. But for whatever reason, the Knicks feared New Yorkers wouldn't settle for rebuilding, even if it makes more sense than what they're doing now. And they couldn't resist bringing Marbury home and hearing the applause, even if it crippled their cap.

Well, let's recap: Had they given Houston away and given up on making the playoffs, the Knicks would be going into next season with the expiring contracts of Eisley and Anderson, with a Dwight Howard or Emeka Okafor or another lottery pick already on the roster, with another lottery pick coming from this year's draft, and enough money to sign free agents or make deals.

Instead, they didn't win a playoff game last year, might not make the playoffs this year, their payroll projects to $103 million next season and they won't see cap relief for at least two years beyond that.

It's all because of the vision and plan they adopted after getting Marbury, who didn't make the All-Star team, who lacks intangibles, who's certainly capable of bringing out the immense talent in himself but not in others.

The Knicks made a big trade back on Jan. 5, 2004. Do you remember how you felt?

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc

This is the typical New York media over-valuing their own players. There is no way Allan Houston could have been moved for an expiring contract. He was a 32 year old, one dimensional shooting guard. He was staying put.

The Marbury trade wasn't a bad deal for them. Every deal Isiah has made since that trade has been horrible.
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