Knicks free-agent track record rife with regrettable, pricey multiyear deals

The New York Knicks took a beating in the immediate aftermath of reports that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, two of the top three free agents available this offseason and both targets of the franchise, had agreed to sign with the crosstown Brooklyn Nets.

Instead, they switched gears and handed out two- and three-year deals to six players, topped by 24-year-old Julius Randle’s reported three-year, $63 million pact. All of the contracts are said to include team options for the final year, giving the Knicks a one-year exit strategy for all but Randle’s deal.

In the era of unrestricted free agency, beginning summer 1988, the Knicks have handed out 17 contracts of at least four years in length (including sign-and-trades but excluding rookies and re-signing their own players). In what should surprise few Knicks fans, most of these deals backfired. Many of the contracts were handed to players with plenty of question marks, as would have been the case with Durant and Irving. Durant is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and may not hit the court again until he turns 32, and Irving’s well-documented tumultuous final season with the Boston Celtics has altered his perception in many eyes.

Read on for all 17 of the aforementioned contracts, in chronological order, to understand the Knicks’ shaky history when it comes to lengthy contractual commitments with stars and role players alike. The monetary figure in parentheses is its estimated 2019 value, based on the percentage of the salary cap the contract takes up. Listed age is as of NBA opening day in the first year of the contract.

Allan Houston (1996-97)
Contract: Seven years, $55 million ($251 million)
Age: 25

Don’t mix up this contract with the infamous one Houston signed in 2001, when he opted out two years early. Even as a key contributor to the Knicks’ surprise 1999 NBA Finals run who was an All-Star in 2000 and 2001, this deal still was quite an overpay for a shooter who played in Hall of Famer Grant Hill’s shadow with the Detroit Pistons. Again, this was a better deal than the follow-up that made him the league’s top paid player in seasons when his health kept him off the court entirely. The second ranks among the worst in professional sports history.

Chris Childs (1996-97)
Contract: Six years, $24 million ($105 million)
Age: 28

The basketball vagabond scored this deal thanks to his second season with the New Jersey Nets, when he averaged 12.8 points and seven assists while shooting 36.7% on 3s. His numbers dipped a bit as a full-time starter for the contending Knicks in year 1, after which point he was nothing but a 30-year-old reserve before the Toronto Raptors agreed to take him and a first-round pick at the 2001 trade deadline. No surprise this one backfired, given his age and limited unreliable track record.

Glen Rice (2000-01)
Contract: Four years, $36 million ($111 million)
Age: 33

After 11 pro seasons and three consecutive seasons of declining scoring and 3-point shooting, the Knicks executed a sign-and-trade for the former three-time All-Star who served as the third option for the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers. While being paid like an elite player, the offense-oriented Rice predictably bombed on Broadway. He contributed just 12 points per game while starting 25 of 75 games in his lone season with the Knicks before being traded to the Houston Rockets.

Shandon Anderson (2001-02)
Contract: Six years, $40 million ($105 million)
Age: 27

In the three-team trade that banished Rice from Manhattan, the Knicks agreed to another egregious sign-and-trade with Anderson. A starter the past two years with Houston, it was already expected that he would come off the bench in New York despite a hefty and lengthy contract. Being a willing defender was not enough to make up for a poor shooting touch. One game past the halfway mark of the deal, the parties agreed to a costly buyout compounded by the team paying the luxury tax.

Clarence Weatherspoon (2001-02)
Contract: Five years, $27 million ($70 million)
Age: 31

The Knicks felt comfortable paying a nine-year veteran, journeyman role player big bucks through age 36. The length of the deal was more problematic than the value, as the man known as "Spoon" was among the better reserves on the offensive glass at the time. He provided roughly what was expected of him the first two seasons before being dealt to the Rockets in late December 2003. He was out of the league by summer of 2005, a year before his contract would have expired.

Jamal Crawford (2004-05)
Contract: Seven years, $56 million ($140 million)
Age: 24

This one wasn’t too bad, all things considered. At least with the sign-and-trade for Crawford, an offense-only guard for the Chicago Bulls who took a big leap the season before, the Knicks were bringing about a player with potential for growth. He did steadily improve throughout his first four seasons in New York, peaking in 2007-08 with 20.6 points per game for a bad team. Ultimately, the Knicks pulled the plug by swapping him for the Golden State Warriors’ Al Harrington early the next season.  

Eddy Curry (2005-06)
Contract: Six years, $60 million ($124 million)
Age: 22

The previous year’s sign-and-trade with Chicago wasn’t too bad, so the Knicks went back to the well for a young center coming off a 20.2-ppg season. But even then, there were worries about a possible heart condition, making six-year commitment worrisome. The marriage wasn’t particularly good or awful for two seasons, but substandard defense and poor rebounding effort grew frustrating. He showed up out of shape for consecutive training camps, dooming him to just 10 games over the final three years of the contract, which was moved to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2011 trade deadline as part of the deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony.

Jerome James (2005-06)
Contract: Five years, $30 million ($64 million)
Age: 29

Only a few months before landing Curry, career backup James pulled off a coup based on limited minutes as the Seattle SuperSonics’ starting center, and a surprisingly strong postseason effort in the spring (16.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg). He was a total dud with the Knicks behind Curry, who wasn’t exactly a stud either. He averaged 7.9 minutes in 86 games over the first two seasons, then appeared in two games each of the next two seasons. He never played again after the Knicks traded him to Chicago at the 2009 trade deadline.

Jared Jeffries (2006-07)
Contract: Five years, $30 million ($62 million)
Age: 24

In successfully luring the restricted free agent away from the Washington Wizards, the Knicks acquired a young, versatile, defense-oriented forward without grossly overspending. The logic was sound at the time, but injuries derailed his first stint with the Knicks before it ended at the 2010 trade deadline when he was moved in a three-team deal. The organization thought enough of him to bring him back a year later, after the Rockets had bought him out.

Amar’e Stoudemire (2010-11)
Contract: Five years, $99.7 million ($188 million)
Age: 27

As the Knicks’ biggest free-agent acquisition in a decade, Stoudemire brought enthusiasm with him when he arrived via sign-and-trade from the Phoenix Suns. He also brought concerns about his surgically-repaired knees, which caused him to miss most of 2005-06. Still, he had made it through 82 games twice in the four seasons since, mitigating the apparent risk. For one glorious season, he was an All-Star who averaged 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. But upon Melo’s arrival later in the season, he was never the same. Stoudemire averaged just 13.8 over the final three-plus seasons with the Knicks before being bought out to allow him to join a playoff contender in 2015. 

Tyson Chandler (2011-12)
Contract: Four years, $56 million ($104 million)
Age: 29

While not high praise on its own, the sign-and-trade of Chandler stands head and shoulders above all the other moves on this list. Coming off a championship with the Dallas Mavericks the year before, the center earned NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors while leading the league in field goal percentage in his first season. He became a first-time All-Star the next season, after which injuries began to pile up. His expiring contract was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in June 2014, ending a positive three-year stint in the city.

Raymond Felton (2012-13)
Contract: Four years, $18 million ($28 million)
Age: 28

Felton returned for a second run with the Knicks as part of a sign-and-trade with the Portland Trail Blazers, with a contract that made him one of the lowest-paid starting point guards in the league, a rate that would have suited a reserve just as well. He more than lived up to his contract … for one year. His scoring declined in year 2, and a weapons charge resulting in a plea deal helped make him persona non grata. By June 2014, he was off to Dallas as part of the same trade with Chandler.

Robin Lopez (2015-16)
Contract: Four years, $54 million ($85 million)
Age: 27

In his last three seasons, Lopez had established himself as an average NBA starting center, albeit one in the traditional mold of low-post play with no outside shooting touch to speak of. His scoring (10.3 ppg), work on the boards (7.3 rpg) and defense (1.6 bpg) were as perfectly fine in his lone season with the Knicks — he was shipped to Chicago a year later to acquire Derrick Rose. Still, he was making an awful lot of money for a seven-footer in the modern NBA who can’t shoot.

Kyle O’Quinn (2015-16)
Contract: Four years, $16 million ($25 million)
Age: 25

Adding the Queens native as frontcourt depth at a reasonable price was uncharacteristic among past Knicks moves, but in a good way. Acquired via sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic, O’Quinn was a consistent source of production off the bench for three seasons in his hometown before exercising a player option and signing as a free agent with the Indiana Pacers last summer. Few would look back on O’Quinn’s contributions in New York as anything but a positive.

Joakim Noah (2016-17)
Contract: Four years, $72 million ($84 million)
Age: 31

The contract handed out to Noah ranks as one of the most puzzling in the entire NBA the past decade. The former All-Star may have been just two years removed from winning Defensive Player of the Year honors, but injuries clearly affected his production with the Bulls ever since. Still, coming off a season in which he played 29 games and already into his 30s, team president Phil Jackson lavished a bloated contract on Noah. His 53 games in two seasons with the Knicks mostly consisted of solid rebounding and not much else. He was bought out last fall, midway through the contract.

Courtney Lee (2016-17)
Contract: Four years, $48 million ($56 million)
Age: 31

Had Lee been signed to a three-year deal, this would have been a perfectly fine partnership. Lee provided the type of 3-point shooting and defense that had become his hallmark during his first two seasons in New York. Last year, he fell out of the rotation on a clearly rebuilding team before the Mavericks acquired him at the trade deadline as part of the package that included Kristaps Porzingis.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (2017-18)
Contract: Four years, $71 million ($78 million)
Age: 25

News that the Knicks signed Hardaway, a former Knicks first-round pick, away from the Atlanta Hawks for the reported terms of this deal was met with a collective, "Huh?" While the young guard had boosted his value during a strong second half of 2016-17 with Atlanta, the Knicks had shipped him out of town two years earlier. He provided scoring (18.2 ppg) and very little else during his second stint, with didn’t make it to two full years before he joined Lee in the trade to Dallas.