Ironic, isn't it, that the principal actors in the NBA's two biggest off-season dramas wind up with the team that plays just blocks from Broadway? In 65-year-old Larry Brown, who made yet another untimely and excruciating exit in July (this time from the Pistons), Knicks president Isiah Thomas at least knew what he was getting: a brilliant defensive coach who gets the most out of his players before skipping town. In 22-year-old Eddy Curry, who may have a serious heart condition, who knows for sure what Thomas got?
Last season Curry was having the best year of his four with the Bulls, averaging 16.1 points, when an irregular heartbeat sidelined him for the last 13 games. Tests this summer to determine the cause of the arrhythmia were inconclusive; Curry, a restricted free agent, then refused Chicago's demand for DNA testing that could show if he was susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal condition. When neither side would back down, the Bulls sent Curry to New York in a sign-and-trade (six years, $56 million). The Knicks had Curry examined--but did not do a DNA test--and believe Curry is healthy. "It didn't come down to a lot of soul-searching, because we're not dealing with an unhealthy player," says Thomas of acquiring Curry. "Eddy is going to be playing in the NBA for a long time."
If Curry stays healthy and builds on his breakout 2004-05 season, he will be a huge upgrade for a team that has had a void at center since the departure of Patrick Ewing in 2000. Eight players attempted--and failed--to fill that hole, but none of them had the blend of size and skill possessed by the 6'11", 285-pound Curry.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Knicks
Larry Brown alone will be worth five to seven wins, especially after all those close games the Knicks lost last year, and at this point in his career Stephon Marbury should be willing to listen to a Hall of Fame coach. Larry can start him at the point and shift him to shooting guard, so long as Marbury is confident he'll get the ball back--and he will in Larry's swing-the-ball offense.... Eddy Curry is an upgrade for sure, but I don't see him having a major impact. Even when healthy, he was never a high-energy player who put up great numbers, nor is he a very good rebounder.... Jamal Crawford could be Brown's biggest problem--an immature player whose worst issue is shot selection.... Quentin Richardson is better suited to shooting guard, which would enable them to have Crawford come off the bench. Richardson can physically dominate other shooting guards, but they shouldn't have traded Kurt Thomas for him. Thomas was by far their best big man, and they'll miss his toughness and scoring. Malik Rose is a hard worker, but he's smaller and not as good a scorer as Thomas.... The biggest question: How is it going to work out between Isiah Thomas and Larry? It's as if dried kindling has been stacked in a fire pit, and Isiah and Larry are a couple of bottles of kerosene.
Stephon Marbury of the Knicks and Jason Kidd of the Nets are the only NBA players to average at least eight assists per game in each of the last four seasons.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 33-49 (T11 in East)
Points scored: 97.3 (14th in NBA)
Points allowed: 99.7 (18th)
Coach: Larry Brown
(first season with the Knicks)