Both Knicks, Suns should profit

Updated: January 6, 2004, 1:02 PM ET
By David Aldridge | Special to ESPN.com

I hate when they don't take my advice.

Here I am, begging the Knicks to tear down and start over, to hoard draft picks and create cap room, and Isiah Thomas up and makes them a real live contender!

Starchild can do that for any team east of the Mississippi.

And Stephon Marbury in the Garden? Ohmigod.

See, I had forgotten that one of the Knicks' biggest assets, one of New York's chief selling points, is that building on 33rd and Eighth. The last three years, it's been a tomb. No compelling reason to shell out ridiculous prices for courtside seats when there was nobody besides Spree in the home white that anyone gave a damn about. I may be crazy, but to the discerning palates in Gotham, I don't think there are more than three or four guys in the entire league that could fill Madison Square Garden by themselves. I think Iverson is one. I think Kobe is one.

Stephon Marbury
The Stephon Marbury show will be playing Madison Square Garden on a regular basis now.
"Maybe Kobe," a Knicks man cautions.

And I think Steph is the other. Marbury brings the Garden to life again. He puts the Knicks on the back page again. He makes them matter again. I think making the Garden rock was a huge factor in this deal for Thomas, who knows from past experience as a visitor what 19,000 out for blood can do to an opponent. I didn't give enough respect to Marbury's standing in the NYC. I'm a D.C. kid; my local heroes were Elgin Baylor, Adrian Dantley and Wes Unseld. I knew that Steph was from Coney Island and considered the best point guard New York ever produced, which is like being the best car Detroit ever produced. But the little things ... like Steph announcing his choice of college on the MSG Network first ... I didn't appreciate the love. It is Alexander coming home from war, and weeping, for there are no more worlds to conquer.

Except the blue seats.

We know that every time the Garden opens its doors, the Knicks make a million dollars or more. Since Thomas has come to town, the Knicks have sold out four straight home games. Figure Starchild is good for a dozen more by the end of the regular season (not to mention how far his presence can take New York in the postseason), and Jim Dolan has already recouped the $5 million or so extra this deal will cost him in tax this season, and the $10 million or so it may run him next season.

And that's just the business end. Name me, if you can, a better backcourt than Steph and Allan Houston. Don Chaney has despaired of ever finding a penetrating point who can get his team into the penalty early and find Houston and Keith Van Horn out on the perimeter. Now, the Knicks are a factor in the East. A big factor. Chaney will now get a chance to show what he can do with a real live NBA roster. Thomas lives for guard quality, which he now has with Marbury, Houston, Moochie Norris, Shandon Anderson and Penny Hardaway. Do not forget Penny, whom I believe still has a lot of tread on his tires. You can also forget about Kurt Thomas going anywhere; he will be re-signed to an extension very soon, with rookie Mike Sweetney stepping in as his backup at the four. Suddenly, the Knicks have a depth chart that makes sense.

I do have one caveat from the Knicks' POV, and that is the very real issue of a young man going home again to a family that has pinned so many of its hopes on him. I know the love they have for him, but ask any player who the hardest people to please are, and invariably he'll mention someone with a last name the same as his. It's hard enough for Joe Average to return to his old stomping grounds. Imagine the potential pitfalls facing Steph every night now that he's 15 minutes from his old house. All the friends and family that will expect so much of his time. And tickets. And money.

But if there's one guy who knows what kinds of pressure family can put on a prodigy, it's Isiah Lord Thomas, of the basketball playing Thomases of Chicago. It's not a theoretical lecture when it comes from Zeke. And Steph has probably heard him give it before.

You may think I hate this deal from the PHX side. I don't hate it, really. I've heard for weeks that Steph and Amare Stoudemire haven't been feeling one another, that whatever chemistry the Suns had when they took the Spurs to the brink in the first round last spring never returned this season. Even Mike D'Antoni admitted before Monday's game with the Bulls that Steph may have dominated the ball to the detriment of Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.

"But last year, he had to," D'Antoni said. "For us to win. Last year, he had a phenomenal season, and he played as well as anybody can play. He distributed the ball, and he scored in the right place. He did everything that we asked of him, and he tried. Whether the chemistry was good, or could we wait a year where Amare really matures, if he still has the juice, will it all be there? And those are questions that, when you're hemorrhaging a lot of money, those are questions that it's hard to put a yes to."

Indeed, the Suns had a top-six payroll, but were nowhere near the top six in the standings. They go from $66 million in salary, and paying a hefty luxury tax, to getting under the cap (as much as $10 million, if they want to go that way) and paying much less tax. They now have two first-round picks that could be lottery-bound, and a team that will now officially belong to Stoudemire and Marion. The Colangelos aren't stupid. But they don't have inexhaustible sums of money. I can't imagine that the economic ups and downs of the Diamondbacks weren't a factor as well. Now, they can be as much of a player as they want to be next summer. Could mean Kobe. Could mean 'Sheed. Could mean none of the above. But they're in the mix now, whereas before, they were locked into their three max guys. And that wasn't taking them anywhere.

"Every time you look at this deal, it's about future flexibility. It's as much about economic stability. It's about all that just as much as it is about basketball," Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo said Monday night, sounding an awful lot like Ernie Grunfeld after the Glenn Robinson deal last year, or Chris Wallace in Boston after the Celtics didn't re-sign Rodney Rogers. It's the reality of the league. Owners are not going to pay tax when they can avoid it.

"I don't know if it's so much getting rid of max guys, but it's when you have max guys that are not resulting in wins," Colangelo said. "The current mix of players we had had a very top-heavy payroll. It basically was not enough to get there. You look at the landscape, the landscape in the West is very, very rough and rugged terrain. So ... you retool. You re-think."

And you may be the worst team in the West. For now. But you have cap room and hope, and you can sell those things in the Land of the Sun. That is easier than pointing out that you have effectively traded Michael Finley, Pat Garrity, Hardaway, Jason Kidd and Marbury for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley and the rights to Milos Vujanic. (Charlie Ward will be cut by Phoenix by pre-arrangement, and thus free to go to either the Rockets or Clippers, whoever gets to his agent first.)

Different teams, different needs. Phoenix didn't get schooled on this deal. But the Knicks, suddenly, have skipped up a grade.

David Aldridge, who covers the NBA for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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