I was present when Eddy Curry’s career began to fall apart.
In the summer of 2008, the Knicks held training camp at my school, Skidmore College. As a player on Skidmore’s basketball team, I was one of a handful of people allowed to watch the training camp. Mike D’Antoni had just been hired in New York, Allan Houston was attempting an ill-fated comeback, Stephon Marbury’s head bore the mark of his sneaker company, Nate Robinson half-assed a number of drills, David Lee saw the Skidmore volleyball team and remarked that spandex were what he missed most about college, Jerome James asked my buddy to fetch him a sandwich during the middle of practice, Zach Randolph grabbed rebounds like a vacuum and consistently exhibited the excitement of a pre-schooler meeting his favorite television character, Quentin Richardson told me the Knicks would be lucky to make the playoffs, and Eddy Curry never practiced once.
There were rumors that Curry was going to practice every day. He was sick, I heard once. He just needed to lose a few pounds, I heard another time. My buddy saw him working out in the Skidmore weight room. “But he just kind of chilled. And he looked even fatter than before,” my buddy said. Now, those reports would elicit a duh. But then, Curry was coming off a 13-point, five-rebound 2007-’08 season. He had slowed severely since the ’06-’07 year and clearly gained a bra size or two, but he was still a productive player.
He was productive, that is, until D’Antoni’s first training camp arrived and Curry became a ghost, a rumor, a no-show and ultimately, one of the worst insults a player can be labeled, an expiring contract. There would be similar rumors for the remainder of Curry’s remaining three years with the Knicks — he’s almost ready, he’s working out hard, he’ll play soon — but he would play only ten games during the next three seasons, earning $31 million for all his hard work. His fully guaranteed six year, $60 million contract finally ran out at the end of last season. But it could still be one of the reasons the NBA lockout continues.
Guaranteed contracts have reportedly become a sticking point in the NBA’s labor negotiations. Before Game 4 of this year’s NBA Finals, according to the Washington Post’s Mike Wise, a number of owners met with approximately a dozen players and the topic of guaranteed contracts was broached.
As usual, Mark Cuban offered his two cents.
“When we had Tariq Abdul-Wahad, he didn’t seem to want to train, didn’t really want to practice — he really was interested in a lot of things besides basketball,” Cuban said. Cuban then complained about Abdul-Wahad’s guaranteed six year, $40 million contract. “And I’m stuck with that,” Cuban said. Even if Abdul Wahad spent all of his time eating cannolis and drinking mimosas.
A lawyer for the players union then mentioned that J.J. Barea made only $1 million per season. “How about that?” he said. “You’re getting a bargain in a guy like J.J. Barea.”
That was when David Stern spoke.
“All right, you want to go tit for tat, I’ll go tit for tat,” Stern said. “I’ll see you J.J. Barea and raise you Eddy Curry.”
The owners, Wise writes, “are sick of paying premiums for damaged goods.”
And the players union, of course, does not want guaranteed contracts to die. Sure, Eddy Curry didn’t deserve $60 million to buy all the Krispy Kremes he desired. But the Knicks signed him to that contract in the first place, and the players contend they should honor the contract. For players who have a ten-year career span — if they’re both good and lucky — guaranteed money would be a major concession in the negotiations.
Players Association Vice President Maurice Evans briefly mentioned guaranteed contracts in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick.
“The deal we’ve been offered would so drastically alter the game as we know it today,” Evans said. “The offers have been so pathetic that it’s hard to even talk about it when we’re informing the guys. We’re $7.6 billion apart [over the life of the proposed deal].
“Again, when you realize all the components that they’re trying to take away, and trying to take out of the [collective bargaining agreement] that’s already in effect — the guaranteed contracts, grandfathering in [contracts], the [salary-cap] exceptions, Larry Bird [rights]. You and I have already talked about this many times, but [players] are really starting to get it and they’re willing to sit out for as long as necessary to get us a fair deal.”
Evans is not thrilled, to say the least, about the owners’ last proposal.
“It’s not my job to critique [David Stern's] salary,” said Evans. “I want him to make money. That’s the whole point is we want everyone to make money.
“But he’s the one who wants everyone to suffer losses. … The guy tells us it’s the recession and all these different things, yet they want to experience all the growth over the next 10 years while we experience none. When you look at it that way, it’s extremely disappointing.”
The players are ready to negotiate, Evans said. They will make more concessions. But they are willing to miss this whole year or more if the owner’s do not meet them halfway.
Meanwhile, for the first time since before he arrived at Skidmore College, Eddy Curry has become more than a rumor, more than an expiring contract, more than a gigantic waste of soft hands and nimble feet and impressive touch. He’s now ammunition for the owners. Ammunition for Stern. A $60 million warning that guaranteed contracts can go frighteningly wrong.