Stephon Marbury’s Fate Hangs in the Balance

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Over the weekend, it became clear that the Stephon Marbury era — and what an entertaining entry in the Knicks Encyclopedia that will be! — is about to end the only way it could have ended: by the Knicks finally throwing their hands in the air and saying, “Fine, just get out of here. Go, please.”

In most cities, Marbury would have been out of town months ago. In the NBA, it’s commonplace for a team saddled with an obscene contract for a player they don’t want anymore to negotiate a buyout. The average number is about 85 percent of a player’s salary, though sometimes it’s less. When New Jersey traded Alonzo Mourning to Toronto a couple of years ago, and he refused to report, the Raptors paid him $9 million to scram. (He was owed $24 million on a four-year deal.) He then signed with the Miami Heat and won a championship. It worked out well for everyone; Mourning got a percentage of his salary and the ability to play for another team, and the Raptors got rid of him. When the Knicks traded Steve Francis to Portland two years ago, the Trail Blazers immediately bought him out, and he went to Houston. It’s an ugly practice, but it happens all the time.

The Knicks can be forgiven for thinking it would work again, with Marbury. But they are dealing with a man who has a tattoo on his head. Marbury, not unreasonably, said that, hey, the Knicks signed this contract just like I did, and I expect to be paid the full amount. You want to bench me, bench me. I’ll sit there and count my money.

And that’s exactly what he has done through the first three games of the season. (It’s easy to chill out on the bench when you’re being paid more than $21 million for the privilege.) The Knicks had hoped he’d relent. Marbury did not. So now it looks like the Knicks are going to just suck it up and cut Marbury, paying him the full amount. If they could trade him, they would. If they could pay him less, they would. But Marbury isn’t having any of it.

So, here’s what’s likely to happen: Marbury is cut today or tomorrow, and immediately signs with another team for the league minimum, a salary that’s pretty easy for Marbury to accept when he’s already making $21.9 million for another team. (Denver and Miami seem like the top candidates; watching him play with Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony would be … interesting.) And then that team will come to the Garden at some point this year, and Marbury will talk about how disrespected by the Knicks he felt, and how he’s just happy to have a new start. Marbury will be paid about $400,000 by the Knicks for that individual game, and Marbury’s team will thank the Knicks for the free player by trouncing them.

That’s today’s NBA: A team can pay an opposing player $21.9 million to beat them … and be ecstatic for the opportunity.