New York gets the win in this swap
The Stephon Marbury trade was a salary dump for Phoenix and an attempt to win now by New York.
The Knicks, who already had the highest payroll in the NBA, took on the contracts of Marbury (about $99 million over the next 5 1/2 seasons, including $21.8 million in 2008-09) and Penny Hardaway (about $38 million over the next 2 1/2 seasons, including $15.75 million in 2005-06).
Phoenix got damaged-goods forward Antonio McDyess, so-so point guards Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward (subsequently waived), 18-year-old Polish forward Maciej Lampe, the rights to two first-round draft choices and $3 million.
The Suns also acquired the rights to Milos Vujanic, 23, a Serbian who started for Yugoslavia's gold medal-winning team at the 2002 world championships and is considered one of Europe's top point guards. He is playing in Italy; the Suns hope to eventually buy out his contract and bring him to the NBA.
Here's how three league executives view the deal:
Geoff Petrie, Sacramento president of basketball operations: The Suns 'didn't go into the season thinking they were going to do a massive overhaul in midstream É but the way the team was playing, they started looking at this season as over. Stephon has had a couple of surgeries on his feet the last two years, and there may have been some concern there. And they had some pretty serious salary commitments to both Stephon and Penny, so the rest of it was pretty much financial from the Suns' standpoint. It frees up some money and gives them a chance to be a player in free agency as soon as next year. For the Knicks, they are making a commitment to go for it in the short term, with no concerns about the luxury tax, since they have the resources to absorb it.'
Steve Patterson, Trail Blazer president: 'It was teams going in two directions philosophically. For the Knicks, it was a move to all-out help them do things in the playoffs this year. That move will be good for them, certainly in the short run. The Suns made the decision that the group they had wasn't going to get it done, so they opted for salary cap relief, draft picks and some good young players. We were real high on Vujanic. Lampe is a good young player, and McDyess will help if he's healthy. We also had heard there was concern on Phoenix's part about Marbury's ankle. I can understand Jerry (Colangelo, the Phoenix chairman and chief executive officer) saying, 'It ain't working; let's start over.' '
A Western Conference general manager, speaking privately: 'I like what Isiah Thomas (the New York general manager) is doing. In New York, you can't rebuild. You get killed if you try that. You have the highest payroll in the league, do whatever it takes to win, now. It would be kind of fun to work in a situation like that. Under those parameters, the Knicks made a good deal. The Suns were tired of being in a secondary market and losing money constantly and having high-priced players.'
Marbury and Hardaway 'are maximum salaries, and it's tough to pay those with the kind of results they were getting. They are saying, 'We are not good enough, fighting for the last playoff spot at best. Let's continue to get younger and rebuild, get under the salary cap and see what we can do.' The Knicks accomplished what they wanted to do, and they got the better talent, no question Ñ unless, six years from now, Lampe, Vujanic and the draft picks turn into great players.'
The view here: I understand what Phoenix was doing, but I don't like it. The Suns, who gave up on Jason Kidd 2 1/2 years ago, now give up on one of the league's most talented players, Marbury, who doesn't turn 27 until next month. Sure, it was great to get rid of Hardaway's contract, but what they got in return is a collection of question marks. How do you sell this to a fan base that already has eroded over the last three years? The Suns have to hope that McDyess miraculously returns to his old form and that they can attract Vujanic Ñ and he becomes the second coming of Manu Ginobili, or even better.
In a weak Eastern Conference, meanwhile, New York may well become an instant contender, and Thomas has a chance to be a hero.
Nice of ex-Blazer thug Gary Trent to try his intimidation tactics in the Blazer locker room after the Minnesota-Portland game last week. Portland's Vladimir Stepania had fouled Trent in the first half. After the game, Trent came by the Portland locker room to exchange hugs with pal Rasheed Wallace. Wallace wasn't there, but Jeff McInnis was, and Trent started a conversation. Then he saw Stepania and warned the Blazer center that he doesn't 'put up with that crap.' According to eyewitnesses, Trent came back twice more with obscenity-laced admonitions. The last time, Stepania told the Minnesota forward to 'get the hell out.' The obvious question: Why didn't one of Stepania's teammates step forward to say as much? Stepania, who was contacted by NBA officials about the incident, shrugs it off with this: 'It's not like it was a big fight or something. A few words were said. -I didn't appreciate it, but I don't think Trent is known as a great guy, so it's not that surprising. Didn't bother me that much.'
Former coach George Karl, now with TNT, figures that Rasheed Wallace will wind up with the Mavericks. 'To me, it's a Dallas thing all the way,' he says. 'Rasheed is a good enough low-post presence to help them there. He is a good 3-point shooter, better than Raef LaFrentz was, and I think he's an all-defensive team player. I wish he would rebound and block shots more, but his individual defense is always strong. He seems really unfocused now, though. I don't know if it's because he isn't getting a lot of touches or what. One night he goes for 30 points, the next night six. That's unfocused. But Dallas is loading up, looking at teams for more talent. If I know (owner Mark) Cuban, the Mavericks will get Wallace before the (Feb. 19) trade deadline.'
Portland's postponement of last week's Memphis game at the Rose Garden due to weather was not only the first time a Blazer game has been called off, it was almost unprecedented leaguewise in that the visiting team and referees were on the scene, ready to play. Patterson was in communication with the league office during the day, finally convincing officials that customer service would be jeopardized and the safety of Blazer players was at risk if they tried to drive to the arena.
Once league officials 'recognized how bad it was here,' he says, 'they came around. If you're trying to have fans show up for games they paid for and have a good time, but many of them can't get safely to the arena, you're defeating your purpose. Where does the slippery slope stop, once you start down it?' No pun intended.