The New York Knicks have had plenty of big names step on the floor of Madison Square Garden, but these 10 may have slipped through some minds.
It’s a tough time to be a New York Knicks fan, and not for basketball reasons.
The NBA Draft has come and gone. So have free agency and the NBA Summer League. The FIBA World Cup is fun to watch, but it’s not the same. The point is the NBA will be tons of fun to watch next season, and all fans can do is hurry up and wait.
But let’s focus on Knicks fans for a second. The 2019-20 season will probably be a long one as the rebuild continues. New York will win more than 17 games, but getting back to the playoffs is almost certainly a pipe dream.
This is always a tough pill to swallow. Twenty-odd years ago, and even beyond, the Knicks were a force in the Eastern Conference. Regular playoff contention was par for the course and too many good players to count made their way through Madison Square Garden’s hallowed halls. Even during the rough periods, some big names put on the uniform.
Thus, as the offseason drags on, let’s jump in the DeLorean, blast some Huey Lewis, and go back in time to revisit ten former Knicks we may have forgotten.
No. 10: Latrell Sprewell
For all his talent, Sprewell is probably better known for his off-court life compared to his work as a player. In 1997, the Golden State Warriors voided his contract after he choked coach P.J. Carlesimo at a practice. Later on, in 2004, his career suffered an untimely end when he rejected a three-year, $21 million deal from the Minnesota Timberwolves, famously quipping “I have a family to feed.”
But between those two incidents, Sprewell spent five solid seasons with the Knicks. He was acquired from Golden State for John Starks and two others during the 1998-99 lockout and averaged 17.9 points per game as a Knick.
Sprewell was also instrumental in New York’s run to the NBA Finals in 1999, averaging 20.4 points per game in the postseason. In the three times he took the Knicks to the playoffs, he averaged 19.5 points. He never got New York a much-desired ring, but his on-court energy was infectious despite his being a streaky shooter.
Long story short, Sprewell gave the Knicks a swagger which hasn’t been seen in years.
No. 9: Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford has played for a lot of teams, but how quickly we forget he spent four-plus years in New York. He was acquired from the Chicago Bulls fresh off his breakout season in 2004 and continued his high-scoring ways with the Knicks. In his first season in New York, Crawford posted 17.7 points per game.
Crawford would establish himself as a reliable shooting guard during his Big Apple tenure, but he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He and star point guard Stephon Marbury couldn’t find a way to make the offense click and coach/GM Isiah Thomas’s bad decisions killed any hope for change.
Once Donnie Walsh took over, Crawford was traded to the Golden State Warriors for Al Harrington.
Still, he scored a career-high 52 points for the Knicks in 2007. New York is where he blossomed as a player. This alone earns him a spot on the list.
No. 8: Zach Randolph
Let’s follow one Isiah Thomas acquisition with another. Randolph was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers on NBA Draft Night in 2007. He and a few role players were sent to New York for Steve Francis, former first-round pick Channing Frye, and a future draft pick.
Naturally, Knicks fans got excited. Randolph had just averaged 23.6 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Portland Trail Blazers the previous year. Surely, he would get the Knicks build off a 33-win season, right?
Randolph did indeed post 17.6 points and 10.3 boards in his first year with the Knicks, but Thomas’ poor decision making finally hit bottom. New York won just 23 games and Walsh took over for Thomas.
11 games into the 2008-09 season, Randolph and his bloated contract were sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. He was averaging 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds at the time.
Z-Bo’s time in New York was short, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been had he not been dealt.
No. 7: Glen Rice
Acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of the epic Patrick Ewing trade, Rice was 33 years old and past his prime when he arrived in New York. Still, he had just won a championship with the Lakers and could still hit three-pointers consistently.
Rice averaged 12 points in his lone Knicks season and shot 38.9% from long range, but New York didn’t last past the first round of the playoffs. The Knicks also had Allan Houston and the aforementioned Sprewell to carry the lion’s share of scoring. Thus, Rice and his expensive contract were sent to the Houston Rockets for Shandon Anderson.
It was a necessary move for both money and basketball reasons, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been had the Knicks kept Rice around. His trade was the start of New York’s downfall from which the team has never fully recovered.
No. 6: Othella Harrington
Harrington spent over the decade in the league and though his numbers were never the best, he quickly earned a reputation as a hard worker in the paint. The Knicks acquired him from the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in 2001 and quickly made him part of the rotation.
Harrington would remain in New York for three more years and shot 51.7% from the field as a Knick. He was then sent to the Bulls in the Jamal Crawford trade and played four more years before retiring.
It was a largely uneventful tenure, but Harrington was a hard worker and fans recognized that. In New York, that’s sometimes more than enough.
No. 5: Chris Dudley
Think of a New York Knicks center, and Patrick Ewing is the first name who comes to mind. The Hall of Famer slowed down late in his Knicks career, so a serviceable backup was needed.
Enter Dudley, a former Yale star who was acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers in 1997. He never averaged more than 16.8 minutes for the Knicks and constantly dealt with injuries. In fact, his most notable Knicks moment was probably getting dunked on by Shaquille O’Neal in a game against the Lakers.
Still, bench players are important too and much like Harrington, Dudley was a hard worker. No matter when he was playing or for how long, he gave his all every game.
No. 4: Xavier McDaniel
Every basketball fan, player, and executive in the 1980s feared Xavier McDaniel. The former Wichita State Shocker debuted with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1985 and quickly established himself as one of the NBA’s toughest and meanest forwards.
Sure enough, when the X-Man was acquired from the Phoenix Suns in 1991, he was a perfect fit in coach Pat Riley’s physical system. McDaniel also averaged 13.7 points in his lone New York season, famously giving Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen fits in the playoffs thanks to his suffocating defense.
McDaniel signed with the rival Boston Celtics the following season, but the mark he left on the Knicks can be felt today. New York has always had a reputation as a tough defensive team and McDaniel embodied that perfectly. Perhaps if coach David Fizdale shows today’s team some old McDaniel footage, that identity can be reclaimed.
No. 3: Rod Strickland
The Knicks made Strickland the 19th overall pick out of DePaul in 1988. Mark Jackson might have had the starting point guard’s job nailed down, but Strickland posted 8.9 points and 3.9 assists off the bench as a rookie.
Sadly, his New York tenure would only last an additional 51 games into the following season. He was sent to the San Antonio Spurs in a trade we’ll discuss soon.
New York may have succeeded without Strickland, but seriously missed out on what could have been. The former Blue Demon would enjoy a 17-year career and led the league in assists in 1998. He would finish his career with career averages of 13.2 points and 7.3 dimes per game.
The trade from New York worked out for both sides, but perhaps the Knicks missed out on something in dealing Strickland.
No. 2: Doc Rivers
Before he was one of the NBA’s top coaches, Doc Rivers was a point guard who could do it all. The Atlanta Hawks drafted him out of Marquette in 1983 and Rivers spent a year with the Clippers before being traded to New York for Mark Jackson in 1993.
Rivers was looking past his prime once he arrived in New York, but he still posted a 2.1 VORP and 4.1 defensive win-shares (DWS) his first year. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury that same year and was never quite the same. The Knicks released him in 1994 and he finished his career with the Spurs.
His playing career may have ended with a fizzle, but fans still loved Rivers’ toughness. It shows today in his coaching style, and his winning a ring coaching the Boston Celtics in 2008 shows it.
No. 1: Maurice Mo Cheeks
Everyone remembers Cheeks and his Hall of Fame career…from his time with the Philadelphia 76ers. This isn’t a shock, as Cheeks spent 11 years in Philly and helped the Sixers win a title in 1983. He was also a four-time All-Star in Philly and made the All-Defensive First Tea the same number of times.
Cheeks was eventually traded to the Spurs in 1989 and, in the middle of his first season in San Antonio, he was sent to New York for Rod Strickland. Cheeks was 33 at the time and would play one full season for the Knicks the following year. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game and was traded again in 1991.
It just goes to show if one looks at a team hard enough, a Hall of Famer may be hidden in the background.