Knicks in position to compete in East
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Monday, February 16
Updated: February 16
10:19 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe Isiah Thomas knows what he's doing, after all.
Sunday's trade that shipped Keith Van Horn to the Bucks and Michael
Doleac to the Hawks for Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed should put the
Knicks in a position to seriously compete in the East.

After taking over what appeared to be one of the worst jumbles of
mismatched talent and excessive contracts in the NBA, Isiah has, in
the course of two months, made three trades and replaced nine
players on the Knicks roster.

The resulting makeover would make the Fab Five proud. Call it hip
eye for the queer team.

Chances are he's not done. Rumors swirled here at All-Star Weekend
that Isiah was considering swapping Shandon Anderson for Ruben
Patterson. He also is shopping Othella Harrington, Frank Williams
and Michael Sweetney, hard.

Scott Layden must be getting tired just keeping up with the
transaction reports.

After casting a skeptical eye at Isiah's hire and his first two
trades, it's pretty tough not to be impressed.

Thomas and Mohammed aren't the players that Stephon Marbury or even
Penny Hardaway are, but they're the perfect complement to a
backcourt of Marbury, Hardaway and Allan Houston and the blue-collar
frontcourt of Kurt Thomas and Dikembe Mutombo.

After pulling off the Marbury miracle, the main critique was that
Isiah had boxed himself in. He used up his expiring contracts and
draft picks to land Marbury -- but was it enough?

The answer, of course, was no. But with Tim Thomas and Mohammed, the
Knicks suddenly appear to have the pieces they need to compete in
the East.

Thomas is far from a superstar, but as a fourth option, he's the
perfect fit on the Knicks. He's young (he turns 27 in 10 days), tall
and athletic. He can run the floor and has turned himself into a
decent defender the past year. He'll never average 20 points or 10
boards a game, but on the squad the Knicks have assembled, he
doesn't have to. Mohammed is another big body -- something the team
needs as Mutombo nears his 80th birthday.

Here's the other thing about the three trades Isiah has made. Each
one also has been pretty good for the other team making the trade.
Not sure how that's possible, given the Knicks' current roster, but
it's true.

The Moochie Norris for Clarence Weatherspoon trade was a wash. The
Marbury trade gave the Suns the ability to get far enough under the
cap to make a run at a top free agent along with two top young
international prospects and an extra draft pick. It's tough to argue
with the Suns' decision to pull the trigger.

This latest trade also works for the Bucks and the Hawks. Milwaukee
is one of the surprise stories of the first half, but it needed
another guy to pick up some of the scoring load. Van Horn is having
a good season and is capable of averaging 20 and 8 on the Bucks,
which is a nice upgrade over the 14 and 5 that Thomas provided. The
move also allows them to reinsert Desmond Mason into the starting
five and move Van Horn to the four. The Bucks also shave roughly $14
million off their cap for the summer of 2005, giving them around $25
million in cap room to play with that season.

While Van Horn isn't the defender Thomas is, he's a better scorer,
and his offensive rebounding should make the Bucks an even tougher
match-up in the second half.

The Hawks' interest is in getting cap room. By swapping Mohammed for
Doleac and Joel Przybilla, the team will clear another $5 million
next summer. That should put them second to only the Jazz, with
roughly $20 million in cap space to make a run at some top free
agents. While it's highly doubtful the Hawks have enough juice to
lure Kobe Bryant, don't be surprised to see them make a major run at
a guy like Kenyon Martin this summer.

Around the league

GMs were busy here in Los Angeles. Only one trade was actually
finalized here, but several others are in the works. It appears that
many GMs, especially in the East, are now feeling pressure to
respond to Thomas' moves. The Knicks are now a force to be reckoned
with and a few teams are going to have to get their act together if
they're going to keep up. Here's the buzz from L.A. over the
weekend.

One more theory why the Knicks traded Van Horn is worth
investigating. Two sources at the All-Star Game Sunday night told
Insider it was also a move to clear the way for Rasheed Wallace this
summer. According to the sources, the Knicks are far and away
Wallace's desired final destination -- even if he has to take the
five million mid-level exception to get there. The Knicks will try
to work out a sign and trade with Atlanta this summer, but if that
falls through . . . expect Wallace to become the final piece of
Thomas' puzzle anyway this summer.

Pistons GM Joe Dumars may be the most motivated GM left to make a
deal. The Pistons have to clear around four to five million in cap
space to have enough room to re-sign restricted free agent Mehmet
Okur this summer. There were numerous theories flying around L.A.
speculating what Dumars would do.

The three most popular had him moving Corliss Williamson to Chicago
for Marcus Fizer and Kendall Gill; trading Williamson to Boston for
Chris Mills and a Pistons' first-rounder; and Chucky Atkins to
Orlando for Tyronn Lue and Gordan Giricek. Of the three, you've got
to believe that the Orlando scenario is the most attractive to
Detroit.

The Sonics were happy to see that Ronald Murray could still drop 20
points in game -- albeit in the defenseless NBA Rookie Challenge. It
appears that the team is now serious about making a move using
Murray as the bait. With Ray Allen the permanent fixture at the two
and Antonio Daniels and Luke Ridnour the future at the point --
Murray is expendable and he's got a ton of trade value. The same
holds true for Yugoslavian Vladimir Radmanovic, who never has
appeared to play up to his potential in Seattle. The team already
tried to package the two, along with one of their struggling centers
and the expiring contract of Brent Barry to Atlanta.

The Hawks decided to make a deal with the Blazers instead. That may
be a mistake in the long run if the Hawks can't turn their $20
million in cap room into a real free agent. The Sonics obviously
want a big in return. Is anyone else willing to play let's make a
deal? The Mavs would do something in a heartbeat, but the Sonics are
reluctant to take back either Antoine Walker or Antawn Jamison --
both of whom (especially Walker) were being shopped hard by the Mavs
over the weekend.

There's so much talk about an Aaron McKie-for-Jerome Williams swap,
and it looks like it's bound to happen. Williams' critical comments
toward his teammates, even though justified, probably sealed the
deal in Chicago. Not sure how it helps either team in the long run,
but the truth is that both sides are looking for anything to shake
things up.

There was also a little draft buzz in the air here in L.A. when
18-year-old Latvian 7-footer Andris Biedrins showed up at the
All-Star Game with his family and NBA agent Bill Duffy. Biedrins,
who many scouts compare to a taller version of Andrei Kirilenko, is
the subject of an intense recruiting war among several of the top
international agents. Many scouts believe he's a lock for the top 10
if he enters the draft this year. Biedrins got the royal treatment,
including tickets for his entire family and a pass to the NBPA party
featuring Snoop Dog on Saturday.

Insider ran into Biedrins at the party and then into his family at
the game Sunday night. All of them looked completely overwhelmed by
the intensity of All-Star Weekend. The word from the family is that
Biedrins wants to be in this year's draft, though his mother told me
she's concerned he's a little too young to "live this life."