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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Unsung Knick History – Farewell to the King

This is the eighteenth in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, “The Dunk” or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.

Last week, we finished up the countdown of the Top 25 Favorite Knicks of the Modern Era, and Bernard King was #7. In the comments section of King’s entry there was a discussion over King’s departure from the Knicks. Different commenters remembered the situation quite differently, so I figured this would be a nice topic to re-visit.

As we all know too well by now, Bernard King tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee near the end of of the 1984-85 season. This terrible injury (which is still awful today, but was even worse back in the 1980s) caused King to miss all of the 1985-86 season and all but six games of the 1986-87 season. The 1985-87 season also marked the final year of King’s five-year contract with the Knicks. Now a free agent, King ultimately signed with the Washington Bullets, where he slowly revitalized his career, eventually making an All-Star Game as a Bullet in 1991.

So what was the deal in the fall of 1987? Did the Knicks not want Bernard? Did he not want to be a Knick? What sent the Knicks captain packing?

Let’s find out!

To best understand the situation the Knicks were in entering the 1987 offseason, you have to first understand the various intricacies (and oddities) of the salary cap of the NBA during the 1980s. I have written in this very column about how the Knicks had problems with the salary cap right from the start in the early 1980s (you can read about it again here), but I’ll refresh your memory about the strange sort of salary cap hell that the Knicks (and other NBA teams) were in during the 1980s.

The NBA had a set salary cap (it rose dramatically throughout the 1980s) of roughly $4.95 million dollars per team in 1987. Many teams were over this figure, and the NBA actually, more or less, rewarded teams for going over this figure. You see, while you could not spend over the cap to sign other free agents, you could go over the cap as much as you wanted to re-sign your own free agents. That is true today, as well, but during the 1980s, whatever your new payroll was would become your new payroll, so that you could then later sign free agents to contracts, so long as you stayed within your new payroll figure. For instance, let’s say the Knicks’ payroll was at $6 million. They then re-sign one of their own players for $700,000. The next season, then, the Knicks payroll could remain $6,700,000, even if they then released that player or traded him for a draft pick. They would be able to use that extra $700,000 on a free agent – but only that $700,000 (or less, of course). How crazy of a system was that? That’s why so many teams in the NBA would re-sign their own players to contracts for more money than they were really worth – doing so was one of the only ways that teams over the cap would have money to ever sign free agents. This is why guys like Jawann Oldham and Pat Cummings had (for the time) exorbitant salaries. It gave the Knicks room to maneuver in the offseason. As you might imagine, though, this led to teams getting more and more over the salary cap with terrible contracts, and this ultimately led to salary cap reform.

But in 1987, the Knicks were still in salary cap hell, and they had three free agents – Trent Tucker, Rory Sparrow and, of course, Bernard King. King’s five-year deal saw him get paid $874,000 in 1986-87, or $4,084.11 per minute played that season. Tucker was making $300,000 a year and Sparrow was making $500,000. In addition, the Knicks had two draft picks, Mark Jackson and Ron Moore, to sign. Because the Knicks were over the salary cap, they were only allowed to add $75,000 to their cap for each rookie. If they wanted to pay them more than that, they would have to get the money by trading/releasing one of their own players. All free agents at the time were restricted free agents. The Knicks could match any offer sheet that the players could sign with other teams.

The restricted nature of King’s free agency made the 1987 offseason particularly awkward. King felt that he should get a raise on his $874,000 salary. He believed that he was fully recovered from his knee injury and that he should get paid at least a comparable salary to the Knicks’ second-highest paid player, Bill Cartwright, who was making about $1.1 million dollars (Ewing was the highest paid player on the Knicks, making roughly $2 million dollars). The Knicks, meanwhile, were pretty confident that no other team would offer King such a salary, so they were pretty content to sit back and see what kind of offers King could get, and if they were reasonable enough, the Knicks would match it. In addition, the Knicks wanted King to get a physical and he refused. He believed that whatever the result of the physical, the Knicks would spin it in such a way to scare other teams from making him a sizable offer. Months passed without any movement at all from either side (it did not help that the league and the players agreed on a moratorium on free agency signings for a couple of months).

When they finally began talking, there was little more than a month left before the season would begin, and they were pretty far apart.

The two positions could be summed up by quotes from King’s agent, Bob Woolf and the new General Manager of the Knicks, Al Bianchi. Woolf stated, “‘As far as I’m concerned, the Bernard King I’m negotiating for is the same Bernard King who was all-pro two years in a row. I have no reason to believe he’s not the same, or close to it,” while Bianchi opined, “‘We’re very far apart. He wants a long-term contract with a lot of money and we’re offering a short-term contract with incentives such as wins and minutes played.”

A week later, things changed dramatically when the Knicks signed Sidney Green, a power forward for the Detroit Pistons, to a three-year/$2.3 million offer sheet. To make this offer, the Knicks would have to either trade one of the players on their roster or use the salary cap slot of one of their free agents. As you can see from the salary amount, the only salary cap slot that would fit Green’s salary would be King’s. This, then, began an intricate game of cat and mouse between the Knicks, the Pistons, and King. If the Knicks could get the Pistons to take, say, Pat Cummings for Green, then they could keep King’s slot open for King to re-sign. If not, then the Knicks would not be able to re-sign King (as his slot would be gone). There was a lot of offers thrown every which way during this time, as the Pistons had fifteen days to match the offer. It seemed pretty clear, though, that the Knicks were prepared to go to war with second-year small forward Kenny “Sky” Walker as the replacement for King. The Knicks had been dreadful, rebounding-wise, in 1986-87, and Green was a strong rebounder. New Knicks coach Rick Pitino did not seem to be exactly pining for King. When asked about the Green offer, Pitino stated, ”Obviously, I had to agree to anything that was done. What we’re looking to do is to build a team that is a consistent winner, and when you’re doing that, a lot of things come into play. One, we didn’t even know if we’d be able to sign Bernard. And secondly, I looked at the positions where there was a void. If Kenny Walker was not there and we had a power forward, then we would not have done this. This isn’t a matter of us choosing Sidney over Bernard. ‘It’s just that we were last in the league in rebounding and we’re trying to do something about that.”

Ultimately, the Pistons decided to match the offer, but then agreed to trade Green to the Knicks in exchange for the rights to Ron Moore plus a future second-round pick.

With that trade finished, the Knicks no longer had King’s salary cap spot available. This did not mean the end of King as a Knick, though. They still had the right to match any offer he signed, they would just have to find a new salary cap slot for him. Depending on what kind of offers he received, they could still find a way to re-sign him. Of course, though, King was able to get exactly the sort of money that he was looking for when the Washington Bullets signed him to an offer sheet for a two-year/$2.2 million dollar contract. The Knicks actually would not need to find the $1.1 million in salary, as they would be allowed to put the money into King’s old salary slot (as they would be allowed to give him a raise, as he was their own player). Wha they needed to do was find a slot for Green’s $777,000 salary. Finding $777,000 in salary would prove difficult for the Knicks, who had already dumped Rory Sparrow to the Bulls for a draft pick (using the freed-up money to sign Johnny Newman) and Jawann Oldham to the Kings for a draft pick (using the freed-up money to sign Mark Jackson), so there was not a lot of players left who they could dump to free up cash (they had also re-signed Trent Tucker to a slight raise on his $300,000 salary). They originally had tried to trade the Pistons Pat Cummings for this very reason, to keep themselves from having to use King’s salary cap slot on Green, but the Pistons wanted no part of Cummings. So, without any moves to be made, the Knicks ultimately decided to let King go to the Bullets, and the Knicks received no compensation for him.

Green, naturally, was not a great fit for the Knicks, and was a part-time player before the Knicks let him get drafted in the 1989 Expansion Draft by the Orlando Magic. King had a rough first season for the Bullets, but eventually rounded into something approximating his former form (never nearly as good, but still). The Knicks, meanwhile, had problems with the small forward position until, well, really until Larry Johnson was acquired (outside of the one season of the X-Man).

So, who is to “blame” for King’s departure? Seems like it is a pretty equal deal – the Knicks wanted him back and he wanted to return, but both parties felt that the other side was trying to take advantage, and as a result, no meeting of the minds ever took place. It was a real shame to see the captain of the team leave that way, though (especially since the Knicks received no compensation for him!).

Thanks to Roy S. Johnson of the New York Times for the great quotes in this piece!

If you folks dig these stories, you’d probably also get a kick out of my Sports Legends Revealed site. There is an archive of the ones about basketball here. I also have one Sports Legend featured every Tuesday at the LA Times.

If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at cronb01@aol.com! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!

27 comments on “Unsung Knick History – Farewell to the King

  1. Nick C.

    Funny how stuff gets totally forgotten over time. About all I remember is King playing those 6 games at the end of the year. The cap stuff is mind boggling to say the least.

  2. GenoBambino

    Love this series guys. Do you think we could see a few posts about current Knicks players/possible trade targets/underutilized bench players, etc? I know there’s only so much you can write about these types of topics, but they’d be nice to see once a week or so.

  3. Robert Silverman

    Great post, Brian!

    I’m still confused as to how a person named “Sidney Green” was a power forward in the NBA and not an accountant in Teaneck or Moe Green’s consigliere/lesser-known younger brother.

  4. Brian Cronin

    The cap stuff is mind boggling to say the least.

    Yeah, it really is. I hope I explained it well enough, since it really is quite complicated (and so foreign to the way the cap works today).

  5. Jafa

    Hey guys, Dalembert in unhappy in Sacto:

    http://www.realgm.com/src_wiretap_archives/70981/20110106/dalembert_vents_over_role_trade_being_discussed/

    Compared him to Turiaf and the other Cs we’ve been salivating over (Gasol and McGee):

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=0&p1=dalemsa01&y1=2011&p2=turiaro01&y2=2011&p3=gasolma01&y3=2011&p4=mcgeeja01&y4=2011

    Things I like about him:
    12.2 rebounds/36
    3.0 blocks/36
    Large expiring contract
    Could fill a need and help out when we get to the playoffs

    Things I don’t like:
    0.408 FG%/36
    2.5 turnovers/36
    0.437 TS% (yikes)
    0.408 eFG%
    0.645 FT% (although he is better than Turiaf and McGee)

    Since Sacto dosen’t seem to need the services of a center, as they want Cousins to grow this season, do you think they would take Curry and a draft pick and/or one of our bench warmers? Let’s hope Walsh is looking into this.

  6. Doug

    Doesn’t Dalembert have a reputation as a malcontent? I wonder how much of that is just sportswriter narrative.

    Also, I wonder how much D’Antoni would play him, given that he’s an offensive zero. D’Antoni has shown that he’ll trade size and defense for speed and shooting every time. It almost seems like we could get similar results if D’Antoni ran out AR every night with instructions to only play defense: similar rebounding and blocks, less interior defense.

  7. Z

    Dalembert had a career high eFG% of .545 last season in over 2000 minutes. For his career he’s posted a TS% between .535 and .581 every full season he’s played. He’s not Pau Gasol, but he’s also not an offensive 0. I think he would make us better, especially if he’s able to be obtained for Curry + change.

    That said, though, I’m not sure he’d bring much more production wise than what Randolph would provide. http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=0&p1=randoan01&y1=2010&p2=dalemsa01&y2=2011 except that Dalembert has more experience and possibly more brainpower, which Knick fans may find a bit more comforting down the stretch.

  8. Z

    Curry for Dalembert, straight up, isn’t such a bad trade, actually… Since curry got an advance of his salary, I think Sac would save around $7 million in that trade.

    For us, Dalembert would be useful as a player, and his $13 million expiring contract could also be traded at the deadline if a better piece becomes available.

  9. rama

    An interesting idea. A couple observations:

    1) Curry for Dalembert straight up works for us – why not? – but why would Sacto not push for something useful, which means, something we don’t want to give up? Other than Mason and Walker, I’m not sure there’s any player I’d want to see go. And a half-season rental is not worth a draft pick…especially since we have so few. But more importantly, Curry is our one remaining expiring contract, so waiting to see what’s available for him until the last moment seems like a good idea. If we got rid of him even straight up for Dalembert, and it turned out Denver would accept Curry + AR for Melo, we might look at it as a huge mistake, whether you’re a fan of Melo or not. (Z, I don’t think you can trade a player again within 30 days, which means unless we got Dalembert next week, he’d be on the team through the year.)

    2) JaVale’s numbers next to Gasol’s were pretty telling. Very different players, but if I’m looking at the numbers only, and thinking about what the Knicks need, I see JaVale as more attractive. I mean, with Turiaf we already have Gasol Lite! Given that JaVale and Blatche don’t like each other and Blatche is signed to a deal already, it seems like we ought to be pushing to trade for JaVale, maybe even giving Washington something good to get him. Maybe even Gallo or Chandler. JaVale would be worth a good young player, and since it looks like we’re going to have a hard time making a move financially if we retain all our wings, one of those two should be expendable…for the right player.

  10. cgreene

    @14 Seems like the the consensus here doesn’t even want to trade Chandler for Melo. Think it’s an uphill battle to say Chandler for JaVale McGee. No? Maybe people here think more highly of McGee than I think?

  11. rama

    I’m in the “don’t trade Chandler for Melo” camp, but I do feel we need a good center. I’ve advocated offering Tyson Chandler big money next year, just because the obvious lack this team has is a big man who can run the floor and play great D. But after that last link showed how good JaVale was compared to Gasol, I ran another one:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/tiny.cgi?id=1NYtq

    This kind of blew me away. JaVale is five years younger than Tyson (without the injury history), on a rookie deal, and has shocking similar numbers per/36. The advanced stats give Tyson a serious edge, mostly because of his insane TS%. But for what we need – big, fast, strong C who can board, defend, and block shots – JaVale would be a great fit.

    I don’t want to trade either Gallo or Wil. I love this team, love the team spirit, love the energy they bring. I love how young they are! Fourth youngest in the league, third if you don’t count Mason (and I don’t). But I would trade either for JaVale if we could. That would make a complete team, and all we really would need from there is a slightly improved bench. Since TD has played better now that he’s healing, and so has Turiaf, and Extra E has been very good, and we still have AR/Mozgov as potential rotation players for the future, we wouldn’t even really need much help there.

    Anyone with me? Wil for JaVale? Or Gallo for JaVale?

  12. rama

    By the way, Brian, another great bit of history. Thanks for trying to explain the cap of the era – how weird was that? Crazy.

  13. ess-dog

    Wow, didn’t realize what a bad year Carmelo is having. Not sure if the head to head has been posted yet but here you go:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=0&p1=anthoca01&y1=2011&p2=chandwi01&y2=2011

    The only two categories that Melo bests Wilson in is offensive rebounding – but he only has 8 more boards total than Wilson this year – and assists – roughly 20 more than Wilson.
    -Melo has 2 times as many turnovers as Wilson
    -Melo gives up .060TS% to Wilson (huge)
    -the 3pt shooting is not even close – over .120 %pts higher for Wilson
    -over 100 pt difference in eFG in Wilson’s favor (huge)
    -almost 3 times the amount of blocks for Wilson over Melo

    I realize a lot of this is Melo being the primary scorer and not having Amare to deflect heat, but in Wilson’s position, would he be that much better? He can’t hit the three. Sure we would have a bit more rebounding, but the defense would be about the same. And you can’t just assume that Melo would just become more efficient.
    Considering the money, it just doesn’t make sense to trade Chandler for Melo now.

    Oh and Chandler is three years younger than Melo.

  14. ess-dog

    Also, I don’t know why Washington would trade McGee at all. I think that rumor was bogus and was really supposed to be about Blatche only.

  15. cgreene

    Gallo for JaVale might be a good move in the off season. Would wait to see how the Melo situation goes before I pull the trigger on that.

  16. Z

    @14 re: flipping Dalembert

    Is it a rule players can’t be traded again for 30 days? I know that’s true of draft pick signings, and players claimed off waivers. But I don’t think there is a 30 day restriction period for newly acquired players via trade. (There is that rule about not packaging newly acquired players in multi-player trades, but I think that is a technicality that is commonly avoided by splitting up trades when submitting them to the commish).

    But even if there is a 30 day restriction period, the deadline to acquire Dalembert and still trade him on February 24th would not come until January 24th, almost 3 weeks away, no?

  17. Robert Silverman

    McGee would be a great pickup, but (I know I’m in the majority here) I think Anthony Randolph can be just as good or better. He just needs the pt

  18. bluemax

    <blockquo

    Robert Silverman: McGee would be a great pickup, but (I know I’m in the majority here) I think Anthony Randolph can be just as good or better. He just needs the pt  

    te cite=”comment-309049″>

    Doug: Doesn’t Dalembert have a reputation as a malcontent? I wonder how much of that is just sportswriter narrative.Also, I wonder how much D’Antoni would play him, given that he’s an offensive zero. D’Antoni has shown that he’ll trade size and defense for speed and shooting every time. It almost seems like we could get similar results if D’Antoni ran out AR every night with instructions to only play defense: similar rebounding and blocks, less interior defense.  

    Robert Silverman: McGee would be a great pickup, but (I know I’m in the majority here) I think Anthony Randolph can be just as good or better. He just needs the pt  

    cgreene: @14 Seems like the the consensus here doesn’t even want to trade Chandler for Melo.Think it’s an uphill battle to say Chandler for JaVale McGee.No?Maybe people here think more highly of McGee than I think?  

    Robert Silverman: Great post, Brian!I’m still confused as to how a person named “Sidney Green” was a power forward in the NBA and not an accountant in Teaneck or Moe Green’s consigliere/lesser-known younger brother.  

  19. Jafa

    rama: But more importantly, Curry is our one remaining expiring contract, so waiting to see what’s available for him until the last moment seems like a good idea.If we got rid of him even straight up for Dalembert, and it turned out Denver would accept Curry + AR for Melo, we might look at it as a huge mistake, whether you’re a fan of Melo or not.  

    rama,

    Dalembert is an expiring contract as well. Assuming that Denver wanted Curry + AR for Melo like you hypothesized, then I highly doubt that Denver would fuss about getting Dalembert + AR instead.

    Right now Curry = TMac of last season, their value is derived only from their large expiring contracts. Nobody would acquire Curry thinking “this guy could become a major contributor for me”, unless your Khan I guess. So giving them Dalembert instead of Curry is a moot point. Actually, Dalembert has more value than Curry because he is in game shape and can actually play if you needed him to. The only additional value Curry has is that we have already paid half of his contract, so there is some $ savings for the other team.

    And I agree with you on McGee, but he would cost us somebody good like you said. On the contrary, we could get Dalembert for somebody who is already crappy (Curry) and another equally useless player with an expiring contract (Walker, Mason) and/or a draft pick. Even if Mike D doesn’t play him, he is a better expiring contract to use in trades than Curry.

  20. Jafa

    Doug: Doesn’t Dalembert have a reputation as a malcontent? I wonder how much of that is just sportswriter narrative.Also, I wonder how much D’Antoni would play him, given that he’s an offensive zero.   

    Doug,

    I think most players are malcontents when they are not given playing time, especially when they think they deserve it, were told one thing and then another thing is being done (like being told you were acquired to use your skills to help your new team win), or they think the guy getting playing time ahead of them is not better than them. I’m waiting to hear that Delambert is an obsessive gambler that will punch somebody in the mouth or pull a gun on them if they fail to pay up their gambling debts before I shy away :)

    And I believe Mike D will play offensive zeros (Turiaf, Jeffries) if they play within themselves, know their roles and don’t get in the way of the offense.

  21. RJ in Brooklyn

    yet-to-be-discovered, athletic, young bigs are out there (DeAndre Jordan, Magee). let’s leave it to Walsh & Co. to find another one. btw, Jordan’s emergence likely makes Chris Kaman available, though I’m not sure he’s a fit. Jordan Hill – a pick I loathed who unfortunately had to be sacrificed for cap space – is emerging in Houston and would have fit nicely with this group.

    as to the original topic: the combined genius of Bianchi & Pitino got rid of Bernard King for Sidney Green & Kenny Walker. the seeds of mismanagement & poor decision-making were sown early & deep in the Ewing era. Pitino’s mishandling of King foretells the train-wreck to come in Boston.

  22. Caleb

    Since we didn’t get LeBron, and 20/20 hindsight is always clear, then sure it’s too bad we dumped Jordan Hill – but I can’t get too worked up about it. He’s about an average rebounder (although his rate his slightly better than Stoudemire). He’s averaging 1.6 blocks per 36, not bad. Don’t know about his overall D. He’s got a TS% of 53, as a PF/C, and a 1:4 assist/TO ration. All in all he’ll probably have a long career as a rotation player but isn’t that hard to find the same value.

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