Comeback trail a dead end?
Off-court troubles plagued former Bulls center
CHICAGO -- You forget Eddy Curry is only 27 years old. Even his tattoos seem tired as he leans up against a table at the United Center, his New York Knicks team finishing up a shootaround before Thursday night's game against the Bulls, Curry's former club.
He jokes about his recent weight loss, to which he will not attach a number but has been estimated at about 40 pounds less than he was last season. And as he smiles, it's hard to reconcile all he has been through.
The headlines were horrifying -- violent and scary and troubling -- and all occurring in the same calendar year.
First there was the sexual harassment lawsuit -- since dismissed and sent to arbitration -- filed by a male chauffeur in January. Then tragically just weeks later, Curry's former girlfriend, Nova Henry, and his 9-month-old daughter Ava were found murdered in their Chicago townhouse, his 3-year-old son Noah found unhurt at the scene.
Curry, who is married to Patrice, with whom he has four children, tried to gain custody of Noah, but Henry's mother threatened to go on the run with the boy. Then in March, the woman handed the child over to Curry's family and he is now living with Curry's mother.
Over the summer, the bank foreclosed on Curry's $5.6 million Chicago house [the same one that he and his family were robbed at gunpoint in 2007].
Due to a combination of his off-court troubles and injuries, Curry played just three games last season for New York. In comparison, his basketball struggles seemed miniscule. Still the questions persisted. What of his career?
It was clear that Curry's weight was contributing to his frequent injuries, and there were no signs that he was working to improve either situation. Over the summer, Curry exercised his option to stay with the Knicks for another two years at a guaranteed salary of $21.7 million as the Knicks insisted on a training regimen.
They are well aware of his potential. Just two seasons earlier, Curry was a force inside, averaging 19.5 points and seven rebounds. The next training camp, he reported out of shape as his numbers dropped to 13.2 points, 4.7 rebounds.
But even in that season, there were flashes, like the last time Curry played in Chicago, in a 105-100 victory by the Knicks on Jan. 8, 2008, when he had 29 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
"Yeah," he smiled, "it was a decent night."
He hasn't been the same since.
Curry agreed Thursday that his level of passion has been inconsistent.
ESPNChicago.com Bulls blog
The latest news from Bulls reporter Nick Friedell. Blog
"It's definitely changed with things that have gone on off the court," he said. "[But] this has been my release. This is when I've come to really love [basketball] more than ever. You come to respect it. You come to anticipate waking up in the morning and going at it. It's definitely night and day with me."
All of that speaks to his resiliency. It does not, however, mean he will return to a meaningful basketball career.
Sidelined this season by a calf injury and ill-fitted to coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, Curry has played six games, averaging 4.2 points and two rebounds in 9.7 minutes.
"We really have to switch gears when he comes in," D'Antoni said. "Like our last game [in which Curry had two points and a rebound in seven minutes in a loss at Charlotte], we missed him all over the place. He was open and we didn't get him the ball. Not that people don't want to, it's just with him it's a different type of basketball. We just have to get more comfortable, and as we do, we can expand his minutes and, hopefully, that's what will happen.
"Physically, he looks good. The medical staff and the guys who are working with him every day are raving about where he is and how he has gotten himself ready."
Knicks teammate Chris Duhon, who was with Curry in Chicago, is also optimistic.
"It's only a matter of time to where he's going to be able to help us," Duhon said. "He started at a young age, so he still has a lot more time left and a lot more mileage that he can get out of the tank. "
Curry said being around the team this season has been "therapeutic." But as a natural post-up player, he said, he has never been in an offense that plays pick and roll so much. Can he be productive again in the Knicks' current system, which would in turn boost his trade value and extend his career?
"I gotta believe that," he said. "If I don't, why am I playing?"
Unfortunately, there are those in Chicago and New York who wonder.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com