The 2000’s Knicks were characterized by bad trades and barely functional basketball after a decade of success. Who was at fault?
This week at The Knicks Wall, we’re celebrating Decades Week. Using our latest app, the All-Time Team Creator, plus our own knowledge of the past, we’re creating the best, brashest, and most celebrated lineups with players of bygone eras. Play along and read what made the last 50 years of the Knicks tick.
The New York Knicks have been in existence since the dawn of NBA history, and their 73-year history has had exactly three peaks: 1950–53, when they reached (and lost) the Finals three straight years; 1970–73 when they reached the Finals three of four years, going 2-1 against Wilt Chamberlin and Jerry West’s Lakers; and 1992–99, when they were perennial challengers, despite only making (and losing) the Finals twice in that stretch.
This is not an article about those times. This is an article about the fall that comes after the climb. The philosopher Voltaire once said, “History is the sound of silken slippers going down stairs and wooden shoes going up.” The 1990’s era Knicks were those wooden shoes, all hardened warriors who would rather snap their opponents clavicle than give up an easy bucket.
The 2000’s Knicks, despite Chris Childs, humanity’s hero, two-piecing Kobe in the throat, were the slippers-wearing dysfunctional mess that brought the team to the nadir it finds itself in today.
The decade began in the most fitting way possible: with the trade of beloved franchise icon and cornerstone Patrick Ewing for a bunch of journeymen and role players, the best of whom (Glen Rice) would go on to average 12 points per game in 75 contests for the Knicks. Holdovers from the glory days—including Latrell Sprewell, who earned his only All-Star nod as a Knick in 2001, Allan Houston, who was repaid with one of the worst contracts in history, Kurt Thomas, and Marcus Camby—still carried the team as best they could, but the decade saw exactly one season of over .500 play in 2000–01, when Jeff Van Gundy, in his last full season as coach, took the team to a 48-34 record and a first-round loss to Vince Carter’s Raptors.
Because the era was filled with so many different kinds of awful, there are a lot of directions an all-decade team could go. For instance, one of the defining features of the 2000’s Knicks was their constant infatuation with terrible big men who would bring fans nothing but pain and misery. Here’s what that team would look like:
Jerome Williams, Eddy Curry, Mike Sweetney, Nazr Mohammed, and Al Harrington for a touch of shooting round out this vomit-inducing group. This might not be totally fair to Mohammed, who carved out a long NBA career for himself and remains the only player in NBA history to lay out LeBron James; or Harrington, who actually put up numbers for the Knicks, but both remained incredibly frustrating during their entire time with the Knicks, and so onto the list they go.
Another possible route taken in this exercise is to capture the pure dysfunction and wasted talent that so characterized Knicks squads of the aughts.
From Marbury’s public meltdowns and power struggles with Larry Brown to Mike Sweetney’s performance as a top-10 pick in the LeBron-Melo-Wade-Bosh draft, this is what I call the All-Disaster Squad. It probably best embodies the era, as sad as that may be.
But here is the actual All-Decade team I chose, one balanced with the holdovers from the glory days and the newcomers who did their best under the worst conditions James Dolan could throw at them—plus one player who would impact the franchise for years to come, through no fault of his own.
I present to you, the All-2000’s Knicks:
Starting at Point Guard: Stephon Marbury
It’s hard to remember now, but Marbury actually played some of the best ball of his career in the Garden. His first full season as a Knick, he scored 21.7 points, dished out 8.1 assists (for a team that had Tim Thomas as their third-highest scorer), and hit 35.4% of his threes. Here’s a list of players who have hit those benchmarks in a season (courtesy of Basketball-Reference):
Despite the trouble that constantly surrounded him, I always had a soft spot for Marbury, and nothing made me happier than when he found a home in China. The two-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA guard might never make the Hall of Fame in Springfield, but he certainly carved out a spot in the Hall of Fame of my heart.
Starting Shooting Guard: Allan Houston
While Jamal Crawford has a case as a fun volume-scorer on terrible teams, Houston for many years was the consummate Knick. Houston averaged 18.5 points on 40% three-point shooting in his nine seasons with the ‘Bockers, went to two All-Star games, and even led the league in free throw percentage during the 2002–03 season, draining 91.9%.
Perhaps the most Knicksy part of all? He was given such a terrible contract by management that the NBA named a rule after him, and introduced the amnesty provision in order for teams to mulligan one terrible contract decision—and the team used it on Jerome Williams. If that’s not the most Knicks thing ever, I don’t know what is.
Starting Small Forward: Latrell Sprewell
As someone born at the end of 1991, I was just starting to come into my own as an NBA fan when the Knicks traded John Starks and company for Sprewell, and he, alongside Ewing, propelled my fandom to newfound heights. His ferocity, his swagger, and his fearlessness all embodied what I thought a basketball player should be, and when he stepped up in Game 5 of the 1999 Finals, battling Tim Duncan bucket for bucket, rebound for rebound, he made a fan for life. Spree only made one All-Star game with the Knicks, during the 2000–01 season—but his impact, first as a spark plug off the bench, then a critical member of the starting lineup, was undeniable.
Starting Power Forward: David Lee
David Lee was the 30th pick in the 2005 draft, and his arrival brought a little light to a team that had basically become one big confounded-face emoji. He quickly ascended the team’s hierarchy, culminating in a 2009–10 season in which he average 20 and 9.6 rebounds and became the first Knicks All-Star since Houston and Sprewell in 2001. In a completely in-character move, the team traded him the following summer to the Warriors for Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf, and Anthony Randolph, who scored a combined 302 points over 81 total games for the Knicks.
Starting Center: Eddy Curry
There are two reasons why I chose Eddy Curry as the starting center for Team ’00s. First: I couldn’t afford Marcus Camby with the rest of the roster in place. But more importantly, he was a part of two of the most franchise-defining trades of the era. The first was his role as the centerpiece of the trade that lost the Knicks a shot at building around LaMarcus Aldridge (or Brandon Roy) and young Joakim Noah when they gave up their picks in 2006 and 2007, both of which ended up in the top 10. The second was as part of the trade that eventually landed Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks. Both moves would go on to define every aspect of the Knicks’ future all the way up until last season, when Kristaps Porzingis, the last lingering remnant of the era, was shipped off.
In a way, it’s Eddy Curry who best embodies the bold, stupid, disastrous era that is 2000’s Knicks basketball. No one remembers that Curry once averaged 19.5 points and seven rebounds over a season in which he played 81 games. All anyone remembers is the trades.
As they should.