This is the thirteenth 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.
A few weeks ago, I discussed in this column the Knicks’ 1996 NBA Draft. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was how the Knicks acquired the two additional picks they had that year. Not only how the Knicks got them, but how the picks were acquired by the teams that gave them to the Knicks (both additional picks came from teams who had themselves acquired the picks from other teams). It made me reflect a bit on how it is often fairly unfair to judge teams on what happens to the draft picks they trade away if those picks were not obviously good ones when they were dealt.
But then I thought, “It might be fairly unfair, but it sure is fun!”
So let us take a look at the history of some of the notable NBA players who you might not know were drafted with picks once owned by the New York Knicks, and how those draft picks were acquired (including, as the headline notes, the time the Knicks traded the draft pick that would become Quentin Richardson for half a season of Mirsand Turkcan). Just to keep things a bit less depressing, I’ll also mention some picks of the Knicks that were acquired by the Knicks!
First off, this is for unsung Knick history. So don’t expect another re-visitation of the Eddy Curry/LaMarcus Aldridge/Joakim Noah debacle (although there is a bit of a twist to that debacle that I’ll address). Similarly, I think it is pretty well known that the Knicks drafted David Lee in 2005 with the San Antonio Spurs’ first round pick that the Knicks acquired in the Nazr Mohammed/Malik Rose trade (although, did you know that the Spurs got the pick in a trade with the Suns for the Spurs’ 2003 first round pick that became Leandro Barbosa?).
The Knicks did not trade a whole lot of draft picks their first decade or so of existence, and when they did make some deals they were uneventful ones. Their first major one was when they acquired Charlie Paulk from the Chicago Bulls in the middle of the 1971-72 season. Paulk was a once-promising rookie (who had missed two years due to military service) who was thought highly enough that the Cincinnati Royals traded Oscar Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Paulk and Flynn Robinson (the trade did not work out so well for Cincinnati) in 1970. Paulk did not perform well and was shipped to Chicago before the 1971-72 season. Chicago dealt him to the Knicks in the middle of the season for the Knicks’ second round pick in the 1973 NBA Draft (the thirty-second overall pick). The Bulls themselves dealt the pick to the Philadelphia 76ers before the 1972-73 season. The Sixers ultimately used the pick on Caldwell Jones. Although they drafted him 1973, the Sixers did not actually get him until 1976, as Jones chose to go to the ABA, where he made an All-Star Game. Jones was a talented defensive power forward/center that would not retire until 1990!
After the 1973-74 season, the Knicks began their search for more size (something that would take up much of the rest of the 1970s for them) and dealt their 1974 first round draft pick to the Bulls for Howard “Geezer” Porter (plus a second round pick in the 1975 draft). The Knicks were very much in “win-now” mode. However, had they just gone through with the draft, their best chance at “winning now” was in the draft, as the Bulls used the Knicks’ pick to draft Maurice Lucas! While the Bulls were not able to keep Lucas from eschewing the NBA for the ABA (he joined the NBA when the two leagues merged), the Knicks likely would have (they were one of the fews teams in the NBA that was very good at keeping any of its players from trying out the ABA). The Knicks ended up dealing Porter before the season was over.
For a relatively short period in NBA history, teams that lost a free agent to another team received compensation from the team that signed their player (things were a bit more complicated than that, and I will likely address the situation in a future column). So the Seattle Supersonics received the Knicks’ 1979 first round pick as part of their compensation for the Knicks signing shot-blocking center Marvin Webster from Seattle (Seattle also got Lonnie Shelton and had to give the Knicks their 1981 first rounder). That pick would be Vinnie Johnson, who, despite his nickname, took awhile to heat up, not becoming a standout player until he was traded to the Detroit Pistons in the 1981-82 season. Johnson would go on to provide a top scoring threat off of the bench for the Pistons as they won two NBA championships during the 1980s (his ability to produce instant offense would earn him the nickname “Microwave,” because he heated up quickly!).
The Knicks were finally on the other hand of one of these deals in 1979 when they traded Bob McAdoo (who they had acquired as part of their aforementioned late 1970s quest for size that never worked out) to the Boston Celtics for three first round draft picks, including a pick the Celtics had picked up from the Seattle Supersonics that became Sly Williams (a top guard for the Knicks in the early 1980s) and, more importantly, the Celtics’ own first rounder, which became the third overall pick in the draft and center Bill Cartwright! While never a Hall of Famer, Cartwright was a very valuable Knick for many years, and ultimately netted the Knicks Charles Oakley, so he will always have a special place in Knick history (granted, that trade is surely remembered fondly by Cartwright, too, as it sent him to the Bulls where he won three NBA Championships).
The 1981 first rounder that the Knicks got from Seattle ended up being Steve Johnson, a forward/center who ended up making one All-Star Game in his career during the 1980s. However, he did so for the Portland Trailblazers, as the Knicks dealt the pick before the 1980-81 season for Campy Russell. Russell did not do much for the Knicks and was eventually dealt for a conditional second round pick that I don’t know if the Knicks ever even received.
Vern Fleming might not have lit the NBA on fire during his career, but he had a notable enough NBA career (anyone who plays more than a decade is notable in my book). He was a 1984 first round draft pick that the Knicks dealt in 1983 in their bid to re-acquire Ray Williams. Williams was drafted by the Knicks in 1977 and had signed with the New Jersey Nets in 1981. The Knicks, interestingly enough, received Maurice Lucas as compensation. The Nets later traded Williams to the Kansas City Kings. The Knicks traded their 1984 pick (Vern Fleming) to the Pacers for Billy Knight, who they then sent on to the Kings for Williams. Amusingly enough, the Knicks ended up losing Williams to free agency a second time in 1985, as the Celtics signed him. Part of the compensation, though, was a 1985 second round pick of the Celtics who turned out to be Gerald Wilkins, so it all worked out in the end!
Everyone’s pal, Z-man, pointed out a big one that I somehow missed. In 1984, the Knicks signed Pat Cummings from the Seattle Supersonics (again with the Sonics!) and, as compensation, had to give up a 1985 second round pick and a 1986 third round pick. That second round pick? Mark Price, one of the best point guards of the 1980s, whose career was felled by recurring knee problems (he was done as a full-time player before he turned 30 and was out of the NBA at 33), but not before making four All Star teams and four All-NBA teams (once as a member of the first team All-NBA!). Pat Cummings? Well, his career was not particularly inspiring.
The 1987 NBA Draft was especially weird for the Knicks. One of the most notable moves in that draft was when the Chicago Bulls traded up from the number eight pick in the draft to take Scottie Pippen with the number five pick. Well, the Knicks actually at one point owned both the number eight pick and the number five pick! The number eight pick was courtesy of the Denver Nuggets. The Knicks got it in 1986 in a trade for Darrell Walker. They quickly turned it right over to the Bulls, though, for the immortal Jawann Oldham (who was an ex-Knick before the 1987 Draft took place). The number five pick was the Knicks’ own pick, which they also dealt during the 1986-87 season for Gerald Henderson (who the Knicks cut soon into the 1987-88 season) and the Milwaukee Bucks’ first round pick in the 1987 Draft (which Seattle had acquired the previous season). Luckily for the Knicks, the 1987 Draft Pick at least turned out to be Mark Jackson, or else all of those trades would have been utterly useless!
I almost don’t think it’s worth mentioning, but I guess I might as well. When the Knicks traded Cartwright for Oakley in 1988, they also swapped picks with the Bulls. The Bulls drafted Will Perdue with the Knicks’ former pick while the Knicks snared Rod Strickland. Probably a win for the Knicks (an interesting “What If…?” would be “What if the Knicks just stuck with Strickland rather than dumping him for Mo Cheeks?”).
You might be surprised to learn that the draft pick that got the Knicks Charlie Ward came from a trade. Before the 1990-91 season, the Rockets dealt the pick as part of a trade with the Hawks that got them Kenny Smith (Smith would later beat the Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals with the Houston Rockets). The Knicks then dealt Mo Cheeks to the Hawks before the 1991 season for the pick. Two and a half years later, the Knicks drafted Charlie Ward.
Things then were relatively quiet for the next few years. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Knicks dealt a lot of draft picks. It just didn’t result in anything for the Knicks or the teams they dealt the pick to. So I suppose the Knicks had that in mind when they traded their 1999 first round pick that they had acquired from the Toronto Raptors in 1997 (in the John Wallace trade) for sure-fire future Hall of Famer Mirsad Turkcan in March of 1999. The pick traded hands a few more times in the Summer of 1999 until it ended up the property of the Los Angeles Clippers, who used it to draft Quentin Richardson. Turkcan, meanwhile, did not suit up for the Knicks until the following season, where he played seven games before the Knicks cut him. They got to pay him for the next couple of seasons, too, and all they had to give up was Quentin Richardson, who they eventually ended up trading Kurt Thomas for, as well!
Another draft pick originally owned by the Knicks who eventually ended up back on the Knicks is current Knick Ronny Turiaf! The Knicks traded their 2005 second round pick along with Michael Doleac and Keith Van Horn in a three-team deal in the 2003-04 season that netted the Knicks Nazr Mohammed and Tim Thomas. The pick was dealt a couple more times before the Los Angeles Lakers ultimately used it to draft Turiaf in 2005.
An interesting series of events saw Jeff Van Gundy get traded for Nate Robinson! When the Houston Rockets signed Van Gundy as their coach, the Knicks still had him under contract, so the Rockets gave the Knicks their 2005 second round pick. The Knicks then traded that pick for, who else, Nate Robinson! Short fellas stick together! I doubt Van Gundy would appreciate being associated with a player like Nate, though.
Regarding the Eddy Curry debacle….as bad as that deal was (and it was baaaaaaaaad), when the Knicks swapped picks with the Bulls in the 2007 NBA Draft, with the Bulls ending up with Joakim Noah, the pick that originally belonged to the Bulls did at least result in Wilson Chandler. So that’s something, at least! Noah certainly is better than Chandler, but at least it wasn’t, like, Noah for Mardy Collins, you know?
Finally, while no one in this deal is technically notable yet, I still find the Demetris Nichols fiasco interesting. So, in 2007, Knicks General Manager Isiah Thomas was intrigued by Syracuse shooting star Demetris Nichols. He inquires with Nichols’ agent, “if I draft Nichols with a second round pick, will he go to Europe for a year so we can stash him away for a season?” His agent says yes. So Thomas feels it is worth trading a 2008 second round draft pick to the Portland Trailblazers to get a 2007 second round draft pick to draft Nichols, using the theory that since Nichols won’t be coming over to the United States until 2008, it will be like using a 2008 pick on him, and Thomas felt he would be worth using a 2008 pick.
However, while Nichols’ agent was okay with the Knicks’ plan, Nichols decided he was not. He would not go to Europe for a year. Suddenly faced with the choice of having to put Nichols on to the roster or losing him, the Knicks ultimately choose to lose him (they signed Anthony Roberson for the roster spot instead). It doesn’t turn out to be a big loss either way, as both Roberson and Nichols don’t do much. However, the Trailblazers use that 2008 second round draft pick on a European player who would stay in Europe, Omer Asik. They then dealt Asik’s rights to the Bulls for three future second round draft picks!!
Asik finally came over to the NBA this year and was playing regularly for the Bulls (I believe he’s currently injured). I don’t believe any of the second rounders turned out to be much for the Trailblazers (in fact, I think one of them is actually now a Knick, by way of the Milwaukee Bucks, Jerome Jordan), but still, they took Isiah’s mistake and turned it into three draft picks!
And that ends the Knicks mostly depressing history of unsung draft pick trades. Thanks to Z-man for the Mark Price bit!
If you recall last week’s column about Fuzzy Levane and Red Holzman, I went into even greater detail on their relationship in my latest Sports Legends Revealed column at the LA Times.
If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!