Commentary

Marbury, Knicks to meet over dispute

The exiled Knicks guard's grievance hearing could set the stage for a buyout by Sunday.

Originally Published: February 23, 2009
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The disgust in Knicks president Donnie Walsh's voice was palpable as he spent another pregame surrounded by reporters asking him questions about Stephon Marbury, the problem child who keeps bringing on problems.

The word of the day Monday at Madison Square Garden was "Marbury" once again as the Knicks prepared for a showdown with their exiled guard at an arbitration hearing Tuesday in Manhattan over the team's suspension of Marbury earlier this season after he allegedly refused to play against the Detroit Pistons.

They'll be back in each others' faces Tuesday, and the hearing will force coach Mike D'Antoni to miss practice while he testifies before grievance arbitrator Calvin Sharpe, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, to recount exactly what was said on that November day at a suburban Detroit hotel when D'Antoni purportedly told Marbury he wanted him in the lineup that night and was prepared to give him regular playing time going forward.

[+] EnlargeStephon Marbury
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltStephon Marbury's season on the sidelines could change this week.

Marbury has said his response was something along the lines of "I thought y'all were going in a different direction," and he has maintained that he was careful not to say anything that could be construed as a refusal because that would technically put him in violation -- if not breach -- of his contract.

Marbury asked for an expedited grievance hearing, and the hearing will convene at 10 a.m. with Marbury, Walsh, D'Antoni and a handful of lawyers in attendance.

"I'll have to [say] what happened, the way I saw things," said D'Antoni, who also appeared less than thrilled at the prospect of spending several hours in a law office conference room sitting across the table from the one person who has managed to keep himself a sideshow and a distraction throughout this season.

There was a report in the New York Post that Marbury and Walsh planned to meet privately before the hearing -- an attempt to re-establish a civil level of dialogue that might grease the wheels for a buyout agreement that would give Marbury his freedom before 11:59 p.m. Sunday night, the deadline for him to be waived yet still retain playoff eligibility for another team. Walsh denied the report, although there indications he might meet Marbury for a private discussion after Tuesday's hearing.

And although Walsh maintained Monday night that he "wants to do the right thing, by the player and by the team," Marbury's problem is that the Knicks hold all the leverage.

If owner James Dolan does not want Marbury to play somewhere else (where he undoubtedly would bash the Knicks publicly and might come back to compete against New York in the playoffs), he can tell Walsh to wait until March 1 passes before dealing with Marbury. If Dolan wants the price of Marbury's freedom to be $3 million in forfeited salary, he can hold steady in that position and Marbury will have no recourse but to take the offer or leave it.

The sides have been at loggerheads since early December when Marbury stormed out of a settlement meeting after only 15 minutes, upset that the Knicks had asked for more than the $1 million giveback he had already put on the table.

It remains unclear how much money Walsh asked Marbury to surrender from his $20.8 million contract to facilitate a buyout (the Knicks have agreed to buyouts with pay givebacks ranging from 5 to 20 percent in recent years with Shandon Anderson, Maurice Taylor, Jalen Rose, Dan Dickau and John Amaechi), but Marbury was so incensed that he later used his preferred media platform, the New York Post, to announce that he was taking his $1 million offer off the table.

There has been no movement since, although there has been a series of interviews and public appearances by Marbury, including a recent episode that can be seen here.

Still, Walsh did give an indication that he'd like to see this final chapter of this unending soap opera come to an amicable conclusion before the end of the weekend. Asked whether he was open to letting Marbury go, as long as both sides were happy, he answered: "I think that's the way it'll develop."

The Knicks still have the playoff hunt to concern themselves with, not to mention the huge hole at the end of their roster that they tried to address by bringing in dunk star James "Flight" White, Quincy Douby, Demetris Nichols, Joe Crawford, Dontell Jefferson, Cheikh Samb and Othyus Jeffers for tryouts Monday afternoon.

The Knicks still want to have another look at Patrick Ewing Jr. before giving anyone a 10-day contract. Filling the roster spot is one pressing matter that might ordinarily require their full attention Tuesday.

But Marbury and his grievance hearing will make that impossible, which was one of many reasons Walsh was fighting off a bad case of agita as he discussed the future fortunes of a player who long ago disappeared from the Knicks' immediate and long-term plans.

"I'm not comfortable with the situation at all, and yeah, I'd like it to go away," Walsh said, "but so far it hasn't since my entry onto the scene."

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.