It took a few months, but Donnie Walsh finally found somebody desperate enough to take on Zach Randolph -- and he did it without giving up any other assets. Friday's deal with the Clippers, along with the trade earlier in the day that sent Jamal Crawford to Golden State, allows the Knicks' team president to basically roll out the red carpet for LeBron James in 2010.
Walsh sent Randolph and guard Mardy Collins to L.A. for guard Cuttino Mobley and forward Tim Thomas, and Crawford to the Warriors for forward Al Harrington. All three players he acquired have contracts that expire in 2010, clearing $27 million off New York's cap that summer.
And with New York only on the books for $24 million after 2009-10 -- compared with a projected salary cap of close to $60 million -- it gives the Knicks the latitude to offer a maximum contract to LeBron James (or Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki or another potential 2010 free agent) while preserving enough wiggle room to sign their first-round pick in 2009 and re-sign restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson this summer.
Although it's a little bizarre to see a team with a winning record trade its top two scorers three weeks into the season, it's also consistent with the strategy Walsh articulated the day he took over the team: He wanted to shed enough of Isiah Thomas' mistake contracts to be able to get the team under the cap in 2010. Mission accomplished.
In the meantime, New York can put a decent product on the floor even without Crawford and Randolph. Moving out Randolph gives Eddy Curry an opportunity to reclaim some playing time at center; if that doesn't work out, Lee and Harrington will form a small-ball frontcourt that should have D'Antoni comfortable. Thomas has been a dog this year, but coach Mike D'Antoni had him in Phoenix and his ability to space the floor is likely to be more valuable in his system; he most likely will be the main frontcourt reserve.
In the backcourt, Mobley will take over for Crawford at shooting guard, where he'll add more discipline and defense at the expense of a major drop in offensive firepower. In the short term, New York certainly isn't better as a result of these deals, but the Knicks aren't significantly worse, either.
Of course, there were two other teams involved in Friday's deals, as well. For the Clippers, it's a desperation trade in the wake of a horrific 2-9 start, and certainly they get the most talented player in the swap in Randolph.
That said, I really don't get it from their end. Randolph has a toxic contract, and the deal leaves them with a big hole at shooting guard and an overloaded frontcourt with Randolph, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby.
It would make sense, it seems, only if they could turn around and flip Kaman for a shooting guard and balance out the roster. Although the Clippers' initial stance appears to be that this is a one-off move and they're going to try to make it work with the crowd up front, I have to think they'd seriously consider moving Kaman if the losing continues. In that event, Camby and Randolph would make a good partnership: Randolph can work the post while Camby plays out high, and Camby can make up for Randolph's defensive shortcomings.
However, even if they can make the pieces fit better in terms of positions, the Clippers are assembling a questionable roster in another way: They have long-term commitments to difficult personalities Baron Davis and Randolph and won't have appreciable cap space until 2011. If the trade (and whatever follows) doesn't make them better quickly, they might be bad for quite some time.
For the Warriors, it's a decent deal because they convert a player they weren't using into a decent guard. Crawford can run the point until Monta Ellis returns at midseason, then take over a sixth man role. Given all the trouble the Warriors have had getting into their offense in the early part of the season, having a point guard of any stripe is bound to be a vast improvement.
Adding Crawford also cements Golden State's strategy of playing small with this roster, using Crawford, Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and Anthony Morrow on the perimeter, with Kelenna Azubuike in reserve, and playing just one big man, rising star Andris Biedrins.
The main drawback is that the Warriors commit to an extra year of salary (presuming Crawford doesn't opt out of his deal, which seems unlikely given how well he is compensated for his middling play) at a price of $10 million, but Golden State is already out of the running for the 2010 free-agent medley.
Instead, this deal was done with an eye toward pushing for a playoff spot in an easier than expected Western Conference. Adding Crawford should allow Golden State to tread water until Ellis returns, and the Warriors' hope is that they can then make a late push along the lines of their 2007 surge.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.