Guard comes to NY in six-player swap
After signing a seven-year deal with the Chicago Bulls, one that ESPN.com's Marc Stein reports is worth $56 million with a player option to became a free agent again in 2010, the point guard was traded to New York in a six-player deal that was weeks in the making.
In exchange for Crawford and veteran forward Jerome Williams, New York gave the Bulls got former Illinois standout Frank Williams, center Dikembe Mutombo, forward Othella Harrington and center Cezary Trybanski.
"Obviously Jamal is the best player in this deal, and it's not easy giving up a young talent like that," Bulls general manager John Paxson said. "The way that we looked at it is there were certain things we needed to get. We had to get substantial financial (relief) and this gives us some flexibility."
The deal will save the Bulls about $18 million in cap space. The contracts of all of the New York players expire after this year, and Jerome Williams still has $25 million and four years left on his current deal.
"It ends up being one we all can live with," Paxson said. "We're just not in a position to give Jamal the type of deal he was looking for, and Isiah was really good at working to get the player he wanted."
Crawford led the Bulls with 17.3 points a game last year and is one of the league's top young guards. After averaging 11.2 points and almost four assists in his first four seasons in the NBA, the restricted free agent would have commanded a hefty, long-term contract. But the Bulls have made prep-to-pro big men Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry the cornerstones of their rebuilding effort, and as restricted free agents next summer, they'll be eligible for their own big deals.
Enter the Knicks.
New York general manager Isiah Thomas has been interested in Crawford for months, saying he was at the top of the Knicks' wish list this summer.
"He reminds me of myself in the way he handles the basketball and his ability to create and score," Thomas said of Crawford, who will wear Thomas' old No. 11. "The ability to score and pass the ball are two things that he possesses. He's a tremendous talent and I'm honored that he would choose No. 11 to wear."
Crawford wore No. 1 with the Bulls, but Penny Hardaway already has that number.
Crawford also gives the Knicks insurance for Allan Houston, who missed much of last season and the playoffs with knee and leg injuries. The Knicks lost to the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs.
"Last year when Allan (Houston) went down, we were saying that if he was healthy we'd be able to go further," Thomas said. "Before we started this whole chase and pursued it, we talked about if Allan was healthy and we talked about his coming off the bench. He had no problem coming off the bench."
Thomas also was excited about Jerome Williams, whose tenacious defensive play has earned him the nickname "Junkyard Dog." He's averaged 6.8 rebounds and 6.9 points in his eight NBA seasons, and was acquired by the Bulls last year in the trade that sent Jalen Rose to Toronto.
"Jerome Williams is a rebounding machine," Thomas said. "We forget the most important parts of the game is rebounding and scoring."
While the Bulls helped themselves economically, they're left with a young team again. Curry and Chandler have played only three seasons, and Chandler missed much of last year with back problems. Kirk Hinrich had a strong rookie season, but he's one year removed from Kansas. Ben Gordon and Luol Deng were picked in this summer's draft.
Frank Williams, who led Illinois to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2001 and 2002, will give the back court some experience. But he's played in just 77 games in two years with New York, averaging 3.2 points and two assists.
"It's difficult to win with a young basketball team," Paxson said. "The concern right now is we are a young back court. I keep telling everybody, we talk so much about Jamal, but our hopes hinge on Tyson Chandler's health and Eddy Curry's development."
That's where Mutombo could help. An eight-time All-Star and four-time defensive player of the year, Mutombo has averaged 12.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.33 blocked shots in 13 years with New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Denver. He is fourth in NBA history with 2,996 blocks.
He played in 65 games with the Knicks last season, averaging 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 points.
"I just know Dikembe through other people. The one thing I know about him is he's a true professional," Paxson said. "He's been around league and seen a lot of things, and he has a great, positive attitude about this business. It's going to be a wonderful thing for our young guys to learn from him."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.