Why Mike D’Antoni And Donnie Walsh Deserve A Standing Ovation For Standing Up To Stephon Marbury

To start, I quote the New York Times. From NOVEMBER, 2008. You know, back when the Rockets were title contenders and Terry Porter was employed.

“The Knicks provided the outline of a potential buyout of the $21.9 million contract — with a pay cut in the $3 million to $5 million range — several weeks ago, according to a person who was briefed on the matter. Marbury refused, telling associates that he would not accept $19 million in exchange for free agency. There have been periodic talks between Marbury and Walsh throughout the process, but Thursday’s meeting was the first extensive face-to-face discussion.”

And from the New York Post, same week.

“Marbury has said repeatedly he wants “every penny” of his $21.9 million salary.”

Here’s where D’Antoni and Walsh entered the picture. You have a locker room cancer. Who no-shows games. The guys on your team hate him. He’s a malcontent. He doesn’t fit into your system. And oh yeah, he’s holding you ransom for a contract you never signed him to for $21 million.  Think about how much money that is.

Now, you don’t care about this season. Neither of you do. You have a plan. And it features three words. LeBron James 2o10. Everything else is just getting excitement in the city, and putting an okay team together. You’re going to be competitive, and if you have to do it with Jamal Crawford (for a while), David Lee, and Nate Robinson? That’s what you’re going to do.  And you have more important things to do in preparing this team for the future than catering to the whims of Stephon Marbury.

Here’s where it gets interesting. They know that they’re going to have to pay Marbury. The question is how much. You have to make him unhappy enough to want to leave, but also desperate enough to take less money. So you decide on a plan. It’s old, and cliche, but hey, why not? Good cop. Bad cop. D’Antoni freezes him. Makes him miserable. Keeps him out of the team. Jerks him around. Walsh is the understanding one, the supportive one. He manages the negotiations.

Marbury, because he’s Marbury, won’t budge.

So now you have two options. Yeah, you can pay him the money, get him out the door. And you’re right, the money’s not that important. You have the biggest revenue source in the league. $21 million? That’s a drop in the well. So why not pay him the money?

Because to hell with him, that’s why.

And not out of arrogance or pride, but simply because he doesn’t matter. Let me say that again. Stephon Mabury made absolutely no impact on the 2008-2009 New York Knickerbockers. Last year this team finished with 23 wins. Twenty three. They have 24 right now, with over a month and a half left to play. They’ve also traded their leading scorer and second best “big man” for Al Harrington and Tim Thomas, then traded Thomas for Larry freaking Hughes. And D’Antoni still has them within range of an unlikely playoff berth. In one season. Yeah, Marbury was really holding this team back… please.

That’s why they didn’t negotiate with Marbury over the summer. They had better things to do. And they knew Marbury wouldn’t budge. So they waited, and initiated talks in November when it was clear he was going to be the same loser he’s been. And what did Marbury do? He said he wanted “every penny.” Because Marbury thought he had position.

Walsh and D’Antoni already had their minds made up at that point. Marbury had two options. Take the $19 million, or sit.  It’s still about… oh, $19 million more than he deserved, but they’re reasonable men. So they messed with him. They ask him to play. They bring him in and then tell him he can’t play. They bar him from the facilities. And they let him be Marbury. Away from the locker room. Meanwhile, they play a little better ball, put some more butts in the seats and carry on with clearing cap space in 2010, which has NOTHING to do with Marbury. He has nothing to give them in that situation.

They wait until the trade deadline. After all, if someone gets desperate enough to want him for sure before a buyout, better to get … nothing for nothing. The deadline passes.

And here’s where certain people’s reactions have made me livid.

The economy’s in the toilet. Everyone’s losing money. EVERYONE. Everyone you know is having to be more fiscally responsible, measuring money in every way they can think of.  And this team which has, over the past five years, blown money in a reprehensible manner on terrible contracts to players like Stephon Mabury,is actually trying to do something fiscally responsible. Even saving $2 million clears $4 million off the cap. It’s $4 million they don’t have to spend on a wasted asset. That’s not penny pinching, people. That’s fiscal responsibility. Treating the $2 million in this economy like it’s no big deal? That’s reprehensible. That’s irresponsible. That’s Isiah Thomas. That’s what got them into this mess. Treating the money like it didn’t matter. People should be proud of the Knicks. They were in an imposible position, facing losing $20 million without any leverage, and they created $2 million! Out of thin air! It’s unfortunate that they had to pay $19, but that $2 million is money they can spend on anything else. Or not. Hey, let Dolan keep it. Because at least Dolan is smart enough to change, to hire smart people to run his business.  That’s not their job as members of a business. Their responsibility in this situation is to save the most money possible, any money possible. And they did that.

So while Marbury goes out and teases Celtics fans with visions of his legitimate contributions in a game in late February versus a Granger-less Pacers squad, the Knicks have gotten rid of him. And in doing so, they stood their ground. In November, they said $19. In February, they said $19.

He got $19.

So while everyone else is upset they didn’t just pay the malcontent his money in July, I say stand up, and be proud of an organization for executing resolve in dealing with an overpaid malcontent.

And shudder for the Celtics. 6 points or not.

Walsh and D’Antoni should have gotten that standing ovation tonight. Maybe in 2010, they’ll get one for all the hard work they’ve put in, and all the pain the backside they’ve had to endur from mistakes of a previous administration.

Sound familiar?

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.