With the acquisition of Steve Francis from Orlando for Penny Hardaway and Trevor Ariza on Wednesday, Thomas has completed his fourth trade in two years for a shoot-first guard. In exchange, he has given the other team the salary-cap relief it craved to launch a rebuilding effort, and at the same time has hamstrung his own dubious rebuilding effort. (Entering the All-Star break, Thomas had taken his team from a 39-43 record in 2003-04 to 15-37, only better than expansion Charlotte. Also entering the All-Star break, the Knicks had lost 16 of 18 games — that following a six-game winning streak.)
In an NBA trade, the goal is either to improve your team by adding the right player, or by clearing salary-cap room. The acquisition of Francis does neither.
While Francis is certainly a much better player than either the so-over-the-hill-he’s-at-the-bottom-of-the-other-side Hardaway or Ariza, a shoot-first forward whom Knicks coach Larry Brown once assessed as “delusional,” Brown certainly didn’t request Thomas find one more Knick, especially a point guard, with a me-first attitude on offense and a diffident attitude toward defense.
The Knicks’ first-place standing in as the team with the highest, deadest-weight payroll, on the other hand, is assured for far longer.
The Knicks have a league-high $125 million payroll, almost $80 million above the $49.5 million salary cap. Hardaway’s $15.8 million was due to expire after this season, but in acquiring Francis, who turned 29 Tuesday, and pairing him with Marbury, who turned 29 Monday, the Knicks are now committed to contracts keeping the NBA’s most expensive starting backcourt together for the next 3 1/2 seasons. (They’ll make $31 million this year, and $38 million in 2009, the final year of their deals.)
(Not to mention how Chicago shoved shoot-first, rebound-later center Curry onto the Knicks before this season to take on the expiring contract of Tim Thomas as well as what should be a very high first-round pick in 2006, the two Knicks deals giving Chicago greater cap flexibility in signing its younger players and perhaps making a free-agent splash.)
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