Repeating the Marbury Mistake

Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni have done a lot of good for the Knick franchise in their year-plus on the job. They've cleared millions of dollars off the cap, given the team a real identity, and even positioned New York as a potential destination for free agents in 2010 and beyond.

But they haven't been perfect -- far from it.

The most glaring weakness on their New York resume was their handling of the Stephon Marbury situation. According to most observers, Marbury showed up in camp last season in excellent condition, and was one of the Knicks' most effective players in the preseason. What's more, he put on a show of being a "good soldier" -- whether that was intended to net him a trade to a contender or he'd actually "bought in" to D'Antoni's system is anyone's guess.

But once the season began, D'Antoni essentially told Marbury to "get lost," leading to an impossibly drawn-out buyout negotiation that wasn't resolved until after the All-Star break. And during the time Marbury was in limbo, the Knicks -- due to the trade of Jamal Crawford and sudden retirement of Cuttino Mobley -- had one of the thinnest backcourts in the NBA. And in the end, Marbury got what he wanted all along -- a chance to play for a contender.

A year later, I'm afraid history will repeat itself.

The Knicks' starting five seems set at four positions -- Chris Duhon at the point, Wilson Chandler at the two, Al Harrington at power forward and David Lee in the middle. Chandler is a natural three/four, but will apparently play shooting guard to clear space for last year's lottery pick, Danilo Gallinari -- who D'Antoni is calling the best shooter he's ever seen.

Problem is, Gallinari is very young and missed most of his rookie season with back trouble. Though he's been running with the starters at most workouts to date, there's a suspicion being raised by Knick beat writers that D'Antoni will opt for Jared Jeffries at the three -- in the hopes that Jeffries will give the starting unit a defensive presence.

Larry Hughes, it seems, has already fallen out of consideration for a starting spot -- at this point, he may be out of the rotation entirely.

If healthy and motivated, Hughes would seem to be a very good fit for New York. He's a good scorer, moves the ball well, and has been, at times, a better-than-average defender. Unfortunately, he hasn't been healthy and motivated in years. Are the Knicks better off giving minutes to Chandler and Nate Robinson and even Toney Douglas -- players who might have a role on the team after this season -- than Hughes? Quite possibly. But I dread the thought of what will happen if Hughes gets pinned to the bench.

That might be the biggest flaw in Walsh's grand scheme to clear cap room for a run at LeBron and D-Wade next summer -- right now he's got a roster loaded with expiring deals, attached to players who don't always behave when they don't get the playing time they think they deserve. Al Harrington seems intent on playing his way to a new contract and staying with the Knicks -- for now. But let's not forget how he forced the trade that brought him to New York in the first place. And Hughes? The Bulls had him on the Jamaal Tinsley plan before he was sent to New York.

Donnie -- do us all a favor. If Hughes isn't going to be part of the rotation, buy him out now. Bring in some D-Leaguer who can shoot a little, so the team has a complete roster to work with. We don't need another six months of contract squabbles on the back page of the Daily News. And we definitely don't need Chris Duhon playing 45 minutes a night because D'Antoni has no guards on the bench.


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