Teams in big markets have it much better than those in smaller cities to attract talent in free agency. Or so we’ve been told over the years. Is that accurate? We explore that in a series of articles ranking the top free agent acquisitions of NBA teams in the last 25 years.
We start with the ultimate big-market franchise: New York Knicks.
10. Jeremy Lin (December 2011)
Stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.2 apg, 1.6 spg in 35 games
Linsanity was short and intense. For a six-week stretch, the Harvard kid who looked like D-League material became the hottest name in the NBA with incredible scoring outburtsts and a handful of late-game heroics that made New York basketball fans go crazy. Previously, he had been cut by the Houston Rockets, the team that would eventually pry him away from NYC.
9. Chris Childs (July 1996)
Stats: 6.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 0.9 apg in 303 games
A more than decent backup point guard who gave the Knicks solid defense and adequate three-point shooting for almost five years. With Childs in town, the Knicks made it to the second round of the playoffs every year.
8. Robin Lopez (July 2015)
Stats: 10.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 53.9 FG% in 82 games
Known mostly for his hustle and defense, Lopez was better than advertised on the offensive end during his first season with the Knicks. The team signed him to a four-year, $54 million contract that felt like a little too much one year ago. Not so much right now.
7. Jason Kidd (July 2012)
Stats: 6.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg in 76 games
Played his final NBA season in the Big Apple and was a steady floor general whose performance was better than his numbers show.
6. JR Smith (February 2012)
Stats: 15.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 36.9 FG% in 213 games
As expected, the JR Smith experience in New York was a wild ride. Signed with the Knicks following a stint in China during the last lockout and looked like a borderline All-Star at times winning the Sixth Man of the Year award, then bombing pretty bad in the 2013 playoffs (33.1 percent shooting) with rumors that the Big Apple nightlife had gotten the best of him. It didn’t get much better after that. He moved on to a better place (basketball-wise) when Phil Jackson traded him to Cleveland in January 2015.
5. Kurt Thomas (January 1999)
Stats: 10.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 48.6 FG% in 569 games
Solid post defender and great locker room presence for many years on good, then mediocre (or worst) New York teams. You had to respect him mid-range shot too.
4. Anthony Mason (July 1991)
Stats: 9.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 52.8 FG% in 395 games
His brand of incredibly physical basketball made him a fan favorite in New York during the early 90’s when Pat Riley was in town and the Knicks were phenomenal. Came from the CBA and became one of the top bench players in the league, even winning Sixth Man of the Year in 1995. Was traded away in a deal that netted the Knicks Larry Johnson.
3. Tyson Chandler (December 2011)
Stats: 10.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 63.8 FG% in 183 games
Fresh off an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks in which he played a pivotal role as a defensive anchor, Chandler signed a rich deal with New York and delivered right away as an imposing rim protector. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award his first season as a Knick while leading the NBA in field-goal percentage and made the All-Star Game one year later. Was shown the door when Phil Jackson took over in a trade where the Knicks got very little value.
2. Amare Stoudemire (July 2010)
Stats: 17.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 51.8 FG% in 255 games
Played like a superstar his first months in New York, then the Carmelo Anthony trade happened and it was never the same again. While still a terrific scoring big man, Stoudemire could never live up to lofty expectations due to constant injuries and questionable chemistry in a squad with a Melo-centric offense. Would end up getting bought out in February 2015.
1. Allan Houston (July 1996)
Stats: 18.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg and 39.9 3P% in 602 games
Left Detroit once his rookie contact came to an end in 1996 and replaced the beloved John Starks at the Knicks’ starting shooting guard spot, which would be his for the following eight seasons. One of the league’s finest outside shooters during his prime years, Houston barely missed games his first seasons in New York and was a key component of the team that made the 1999 NBA Finals. Vilified by some for his inability to live up to the max deal he signed in 2001, the 6-foot-6 Houston would quit basketball due to injuries in 2005.