BY FRANK ISOLA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Allan Houston's agent confirmed yesterday that his client has no intention of retiring, but William Strickland acknowledged that several key recent developments increase the "probability" that Houston's career in New York is over.
As of last night, the Knicks still were finalizing a deal that would send Kurt Thomas to the Phoenix Suns for small forward Quentin Richardson. The Knicks also would receive a conditional first-round pick in the trade, giving them five first-round picks in the next two drafts. The deal, which paves the way for the Knicks to release Houston and save $40million in luxury tax under a provision in the new collective bargaining agreement, is expected to be made official on Monday.
"Given that amnesty provision, it increases the chances that something could happen," Strickland said over the telephone. "But I do not believe that Allan will retire. He's worked too hard to get back. He still wants to play."
If and when Houston is released, he would become an unrestricted free agent. And if he proves himself to be healthy, the veteran shooting guard should draw interest from contending teams that are in the market for an accomplished outside shooter. Miami, Detroit, Houston, Denver and San Antonio are teams that would love to have Houston coming off their bench. Indiana, which is a short drive from Houston's hometown of Louisville, also is an option.
An arthritic left knee has limited Houston to 70 games over the past two seasons. Last season, Knicks president Isiah Thomas stunned Houston by publicly suggesting that retirement is an option that the veteran guard should consider. Houston, who has been with the Knicks for nine years, has maintained all along that he will not quit. He also believes that, considering Antonio McDyess overcame a similar injury to become a contributing player for the Pistons, he shouldn't call it a career just yet.
Even if Houston were to retire, the Knicks would not be eligible for a medical exception because the rule applies only to players who appeared in 10 or fewer games. Houston, who will earn $39 million over the next two years, played 20games last season.
Instead, the Knicks and Houston likely will have to part ways by exercising the one-time only provision in the new CBA. Releasing Houston would erase the last piece from the great Knick teams of the late '90s through 2001.
Houston hit one of the biggest shots in franchise history when his last-second leaner eliminated the Miami Heat in Game5 in 1999. Houston's Game6 that year against Indiana, in which he scored 32 points to send the Knicks to the NBA Finals, was one of the greatest clutch performances in team history.
"Ultimately, Allan believes he will be back," Strickland said. "He has pride and he puts his faith in God. I will never doubt him."