Knicks sign Kentucky center Morris to 2-year deal

Updated: March 24, 2007, 2:17 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The New York Knicks signed Kentucky center Randolph Morris, who played his junior season as an NBA free agent, to a contract Friday.

Randolph Morris
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRandolph Morris' two-year deal with the Knicks is reportedly worth $1.6 million.

The Knicks did not announce terms of the signing, but an NBA source told ESPN Insider Chad Ford that it is a two-year deal worth $1.6 million.

Morris joins the Knicks in their fight for an Eastern Conference playoff berth, which took a hit with a 90-68 loss in Cleveland on Friday. There is no immediate word on when Morris would join the team.

"We said all along that in terms of building this team we would have to find unconventional ways to try and find talent and get out and beat the bushes," said Isiah Thomas, the Knicks' coach and director of basketball operations. "This is a very unique situation and I don't know if there has been something similar to this. The rules allowed it, and here we are."

Thomas said the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Morris will soon join and practice with the Knicks.

"It's another guy we can add to our young core,'' Thomas said. "We're very happy to have him. It's another big and it's almost like another pick in this year's draft -- just a little early."

Thomas said several other teams were "chasing" Morris.

Randolph declared himself eligible for the 2005 NBA draft after his freshman season at Kentucky, but he did not sign with an agent. After going undrafted, he returned for his sophomore and junior seasons under Tubby Smith. Morris sat out the first 14 games of his sophomore season because of an NCAA penalty related to contact with an agent.

Due to a provision in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, Morris is prohibited from re-entering the draft and had free agent status throughout the 2006-07 season at Kentucky.

According to the NBA rookie contract scale, Morris' $1.6 million deal equates to first-round money; his salary is on par with what the 26th pick received in last year's draft and what the 30th pick will sign for in 2007.

According to Kentucky, Morris met with athletic director Mitch Barnhart on Thursday night and was asked to wait until Smith's replacement was hired before deciding whether to stay in school. A Kentucky spokesperson told ESPN.com that Morris told Barnhart he would do that.

On Friday, Morris apparently changed his mind. Morris told Barnhart on Friday afternoon that he had signed with the Knicks, Kentucky spokesperson Scott Stricklin confirmed.

Kentucky is now trying to figure out how the departure of Morris, who averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds a game this season for the Wildcats, before spring semester's end will affect the school's academic progress report.

Under the new APR, schools are subject to scholarship penalties if student-athletes leave early and not in good academic standing. Withdrawing from school before the end of a semester can seriously impede a team's GPA and academic standing. To that end, Texas and Ohio State are taking steps to ensure freshmen Kevin Durant and Greg Oden will finish the spring semester.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.