The New York Knicks traded Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford in separate deals Friday, parting with their two top scorers to free up coveted salary-cap space for the summer of 2010.
NEW YORK — The New York Knicks traded Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford in separate deals Friday, parting with their two top scorers to free up coveted salary-cap space for the summer of 2010.
Crawford was sent to Golden State for forward Al Harrington. Hours later, Randolph was shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers along with reserve guard Mardy Collins for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas.
The Knicks gave up 40 points per game for a chance to cash in on something much bigger.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh has repeatedly said his goal was to get under the cap in time for a potentially sensational free-agent crop that could be headlined by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
"I think that opening up cap space down the road for us is a big plus on our side and I hope our fans understand that that can give us an opportunity to make the team better according to the plan that I've outlined," Walsh said on a conference call. "So I'm trying to be true to what I said from day one, and that's what I'm doing."
Both Randolph and Crawford have deals that extend past 2010. Randolph is scheduled to make $17.3 million and Crawford $10.1 million in 2010-11. None of the players the Knicks brought back are under contract past 2010.
James, Wade and Bosh, all members of the U.S. Olympic team, could become free agents that summer. However, coach Mike D'Antoni said the Knicks are still focused on the present.
"I do think the guys that we traded for are going to come in and be a bonus," D'Antoni said before the Knicks' game at Milwaukee. "Good veterans, and I really want to dispel the notion that OK, we did it to clear (cap space) — which we did, and obviously we have a long-term plan, and that was the plan from the very first day.
"But at the same time, we're not throwing this year away or thinking that we're not going to make the playoffs or think that we're waiting for three years from now. No. We're going to go out and develop this team and we're going to really fight hard to get into the playoffs, and I think we can."
New York has had seven straight losing seasons, and Friday's moves might clinch an eighth, which would tie a franchise record. Though Harrington could flourish in D'Antoni's uptempo system and Thomas played well for him in Phoenix, the Knicks have to replace the 20.5 points and 12.5 rebounds Randolph was averaging, plus Crawford's 19.6 points per game.
"I think this is an unfortunate time to make this kind of trade because you're introducing three new players into the system and in addition to that you're taking out the two guys who are our most successful players in the beginning of the season in Zach and in Jamal," Walsh said. "So this will be a difficult time for our coach, but I think we we're all on the same page as far as trying to get this done."
But Walsh and D'Antoni have made it clear they are playing for the future, so the record this season was never the first priority, anyway. With the allure of playing in New York and for D'Antoni, Walsh believes the Knicks would be a player in 2010 if the finances allowed.
A top player like James who has completed seven seasons in the league in 2010 would be eligible to receive a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap under rules of the collective bargaining agreement. That could be between $18-19 million in the first year of a new deal.
Even if Walsh offers extensions to Nate Robinson and David Lee this summer, the current group of Knicks still would have only a half-dozen players under contract in 2010. He still may try to move center Eddy Curry, who will make $11.3 million in 2010-11 and is a poor fit in D'Antoni's system. The 6-foot-11 center hasn't played this season.
Harrington grew up in northern New Jersey and was drafted by Walsh when he was in Indiana. Harrington joined the Warriors in a trade with the Pacers in January 2007 and played a large role in ending Golden State's 12-season playoff drought later that year, but the 6-foot-9 perimeter shooter grew disenchanted with his role in Don Nelson's offense last year and asked for a trade.
Crawford could provide a short-term solution to Golden State's woes at point guard, where the team is still without the injured Monta Ellis.
The Clippers were interested in Randolph over the summer, seeking a natural power forward to play alongside center Chris Kaman after losing Elton Brand to Philadelphia in free agency. Randolph, who spent most of his career in Portland, has career averages of 16.4 points and 8.2 rebounds over seven seasons.
"We had our best success a couple of years ago when we had two low post scorers where we had one in the game at almost all times," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It's nice when the ball doesn't go in the basket from the outside and you need a bucket in low. We have a couple of guys that have the ability to deliver that."
The Knicks have been above the cap for years and haven't been able to make a free-agent splash in more than a decade. But they are now in position — perhaps so good that Walsh didn't rule out possibly being able to land two max players in two years.
"I have a good idea of what we just did," Walsh said. "I can't tell you that I've thought out what I'm going to do in two years or something like that. I haven't done that. All I know is that we've created more cap space than we had."
AP Sports Writers Chris Jenkins in Milwaukee and Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.