Isiah makes strongest point yet

Updated: January 6, 2004, 10:53 AM ET
By Peter May | Special to ESPN.com

It didn't take Isiah Thomas very long, did it? That can happen when the best point guard in the employ of the New York Knicks is the one you see in the mirror every day.

Thomas signed off on a megadeal to bring Stephon Marbury to the Big Apple, the place where Marbury always wanted to be -- but could never get there. The Knicks finally have their point guard, one good enough to play in All-Star games with the attendant entourage, tattoos and bling-bling to boot. The deal came the day after Thomas watched Jason Kidd destroy the Knicks. And you didn't have to be looking through a point guard's eyes to see it.

OK, this will be Marbury's fourth team. What's up with that? He got tired of being second banana to Kevin Garnett in Minnesota and basically made the Wolves deal him to New Jersey. He ran out of string there and was sent to Phoenix in a deal for Kidd that basically resuscitated one of the league's more moribund franchises.

And now, after only two years in Phoenix, one of them resulting in an All-Star Game appearance and a spot in the playoffs, he's back in the East. Someone better keep the sharp objects away from Keith Van Horn.

Stephon Marbury
Local boy Stephon Marbury knows the pressures of the New York media.
The Knicks needed a point guard, even though they had three of them. Two of those fellows (Howard Eisley and Charlie Ward) are now en route to Phoenix and one of them, Ward, will likely be waived within a week. With Antonio McDyess also headed back to the Suns, the Knicks now become Marbury's team almost by default; we can't see Moochie Norris standing in the way.

If you throw away the issue of down-the-road financial flexibility -- it could be a killer for the Knicks -- and you brush aside whatever internal problems this might cause -- see: Marbury v. Van Horn, New Jersey -- this deal can energize and invigorate the Knicks right away. It might also improve them, too. How about that?

Who did they lose? No one of consequence who's playing right now. Eisley played sparingly and erratically. McDyess was just getting back after missing the last year-plus, but was coming off the bench, averaging less than nine points in 23-plus minutes a game. Ward's best days are long since over.

This deal might come back to bite the Knicks if Milos Vujanic turns out to the Serbian answer to Peja Stojakovic at the point. Or if the Knicks' draft picks become lottery selections. But that's down-the-road thinking. For the win-now philosophy that Thomas espouses, this makes the Knicks a better, more dangerous team right away and -- dare we say it? -- a playoff contender? OK. Everyone in the East is a playoff contender, but the Knicks can vault themselves into the middle of the race after this.

Interjecting Marbury into the Madison Square Garden tempest creates a buzz and a sizzle that Thomas -- and a lot of people -- felt was missing. That Marbury has shown he can play when the spirit moves him also made it worth the risk for the Knicks. What, you wanted to keep waiting for Frank Williams to possibly develop? Or see if Norris was the guy?

Don Chaney -- or whoever ends up coaching this team -- now has three guys in his starting five who can scratch a 30-point itch in Allan Houston, Marbury, and Van Horn. Hardaway was miserable in Phoenix because he felt unappreciated and underutilized. Maybe that's because he's nowhere near what he once was -- but he's also not a slug by any stretch. He could be a weapon off the bench.

And no one is going to have to sit Marbury down in a windowless room and explain to him the ups and downs of playing in New York. He knows, which can be both good and bad. Sure, there's always a risk bringing a homeboy back -- and that's one reason why the Knicks always rejected opportunities to trade for Kenny Anderson. But you know Marbury has to be ecstatic about this deal; the Suns were going nowhere in the brutal West and he now has arguably the game's biggest stage in which to showcase his talent.

The Knicks could not afford to be less than ordinary and irrelevant any longer. The move to bring in Thomas was a clarion call from ownership to start the R&R (Rebuilding and Relevancy) program pronto. Getting rid of Clarence Weatherspoon and Slavko Vranes wasn't what Thomas or ownership had in mind. Getting Marbury and Penny is more like it.

Maybe the bean counters at MSG won't like this one, but the Knicks were light years away from any kind of financial maneuverability had they done nothing. Marbury signed a maximum-level extension which runs through the rest of this decade. At times, he plays like he's worth it. In the 2005-06 season, the Knicks will be obligated to shell out more than $51 million for Marbury, Hardaway and Houston.

But there's a lot of talk that the luxury tax might not rear its ugly head this year -- and the NBA Players Association will endeavor to keep it out of the next collective bargaining agreement. So the tradeoff is still having a huge payroll now and forever -- but a roster with a better chance of winning than the one you had. (Now, if Isiah can find a taker for Shandon Anderson, he goes to the head of the list for Executive of the Year.)

That's the only way you can look at this deal from the Knicks' point of view. Madison Square Garden was no longer the place to be when the Knicks were playing. Celebrity row looked more like a casting call for "Cats." Getting the city juiced up about its basketball team may seem like a secondary goal, but it's a goal, nonetheless, when the city is New York and the team is the Knicks. St. John's was getting more hype.

Marbury will make the Knicks interesting. He may even make them better, which would represent Part II (or I-A) of the deal from Thomas' point of view. As long as the Knicks don't have to add another row of seats for Marbury's entourage, and as long as Van Horn and Marbury don't try to strangle each other, this represents the Knicks' best hope since Jeff Van Gundy saw the light before the dawn.

They don't call him Starbury for no reason. And stars like to play where the lights are brightest, the lines are the longest, and the crowds are the loudest. Madison Square Garden can be all three. Thanks to Isiah, Marbury now has that chance, the one he's always coveted. From point guard to point guard, the new guy should say, "Thanks" and then go out and show what the fuss is all about.

Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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