SI Vault
Jackie MacMullan
March 22, 1999
Getting Falked Agent provocateur David Falk made Stephon Marbury a Nets gain
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March 22, 1999

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Getting Falked
Agent provocateur David Falk made Stephon Marbury a Nets gain

Stephon Marbury, who's been chanting "There's no place like home" for months now, clicked his heels three times and finally got his wish. The Coney Island native forced the Timber-wolves to trade him to New Jersey last Thursday after providing them with a short list of acceptable destinations: New York, New Jersey or Los Angeles. Marbury, through his agent, David Falk, forced Minnesota's hand by threatening to walk at season's end and sign with the Bulls.

"Go ahead," was general manager Kevin McHale's initial reply. He couldn't believe Marbury would forsake a team that was developing into a championship contender for a dynasty in ruins. Upon hearing that McHale was prepared to call Marbury's bluff, Falk, who refused to deal with McHale, informed Minnesota owner Glen Taylor, "I can put together my own team in Chicago." The implication was that Falk would dump his stable of free agents—among them Marbury, Nets guard Kerry Kittles and Cavaliers center Vitaly Potapenko—into the lap of Chicago general manager Jerry Krause. When Taylor became convinced that Marbury was a lost cause, he told McHale to make a trade.

Both McHale and coach Flip Saunders wanted to seek a package from the Nets that included Kittles, but Falk told them Kittles had no interest in playing for Minnesota. The Timberwolves believe Falk promised to deliver Marbury to the Nets in exchange for a lucrative extension for Kittles, who, by the way, signed a six-year extension last Saturday worth $52 million.

Minnesota then decided that it had to get a high first-round draft pick and an All-Star-caliber point guard for Marbury. The Lakers and the Knicks, who were both very interested in Marbury, could provide neither. Ultimately, the Timberwolves pulled the trigger on a three-way swap: New Jersey point guard Sam Cassell, Nets power forward Chris Gatling and Minnesota center Paul Grant to Milwaukee; Bucks guard Elliott Perry, Marbury and two other Timberwolves, forward Bill Curley and guard Chris Carr, to New Jersey; and Milwaukee point guard Terrell Brandon, Nets forward Brian Evans and a conditional package of first-round Nets picks to Minnesota. In announcing the trade, a bitter McHale told reporters, "Falk told Steph those five words: 'I'm going to help you.' Whenever an agent says that, the player should grab his wallet and run like hell."

What most bewilders the Timberwolves is that Marbury would rather play on a team in turmoil (the Nets were 3-17 as of last Monday, when they fired coach John Calipari) than stay with a team that seemed destined for greatness. McHale, however, concedes that Marbury has the skills to turn New Jersey around—fast. "The kid can flatout play," says McHale. "That's why we got him in the first place."

There is no denying Marbury's talent, but there is room to question his priorities and his commitment to winning. Marbury told SI in January 1998 that he was thinking of bolting Minnesota when his contract was up because of the weather and because he missed his New York friends. This news stunned the Timberwolves' front office, which later discovered that Marbury had made those comments just days after a local night spot refused to serve him alcohol because he was underage. "They give me my own table in New York!" Marbury reportedly fumed between expletives.

At his press conference last Friday, Marbury insisted that reuniting with friends and family was his main objective in forcing the trade. Minnesota says Marbury believed he was missing out on endorsements because he was playing in a small-market city, and that he couldn't accept being paid less than teammate Kevin Garnett because Marbury views himself as the better player. Garnett signed a seven-year, $126 million extension before the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect; under the new deal, the most Marbury could make in Minnesota was $70.9 million for six years, which New Jersey gladly gave him last Friday.

The departure of Marbury left his ex-teammates shell-shocked. They had no trouble overlooking his mood swings because of his exceptional skills. "Steph changed like the wind, from one day to the next," McHale says. "Even on the court, there was the good Steph and the bad Steph. The bad Steph thought only about his game. The good Steph moved the ball, got others involved, took big shots. We got him up to being that guy around 80 percent of the time near the end, which was up from 25 percent when we first got him."

The Timberwolves are left to ponder what happened to their promising foundation of Garnett, Marbury and Tom Gugliotta, who took a lot less money to sign with Phoenix in January. Saunders says Gugliotta had told Minnesota he would re-sign with the Timberwolves—if they agreed to trade Marbury.

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