GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Dealer Donnie was at it again. On NBA trade deadline day, Donnie Walsh pulled off another pair of moves that revamped the Knicks' roster for both short-term and long-term gains.
Walsh said he is "very happy" about acquiring veteran guard Larry Hughes and rugged power forward Chris Wilcox in separate deals Thursday. The Knicks sent Malik Rose to the Thunder for Wilcox and sent Tim Thomas, Anthony Roberson and Jerome James to the Bulls for Hughes.
The three-for-one deal opened two roster spots, which Walsh said the Knicks likely will fill with players out of the D-League (Will Conroy, Blake Ahern or Patrick Ewing Jr.) or off the NBA waiver wire (Quincy Douby).
Wilcox and Hughes are not expected to be available for Friday's game against the Raptors at the Garden, but they could be in the lineup in Sunday's game in Toronto.
The moves give some short-term improvement to a roster that Mike D'Antoni believes still can make a push for a playoff spot. The Knicks (22-31) are three games out of the final playoff berth in the East with 29 games left.
"We think they can fit in with what can help us," Walsh said, "and they were within the parameters of what we were trying to do."
Which is to say, Mission 2010 still is very much in effect. Both players have contracts that do not extend beyond that critical summer, when several of the NBA's best players -- including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- are expected to be free agents. The Knicks -- who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday -- have four expiring contracts (five if you count retired Cuttino Mobley) to offer next season in the event that some of those free agents-to-be can be had in a trade before the summer.
Despite rumors leading up to deadline day, the Knicks held on to pending restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson. Lee, as Newsday reported yesterday, was taken off the market. But Robinson's name came up in an 11th-hour deal that never materialized beyond the offer stage. The Kings approached the Knicks about Robinson and offered to take Jared Jeffries' contract as well in exchange for Kenny Thomas.
"I said, 'Absolutely not,'" Walsh said. It is believed there was some serious consideration, however, because the deal would have gotten the Knicks out of Jeffries' contract, which commands $6.8 million in 2010-11.
Robinson still could be moved during the NBA draft in June. He was asked after practice yesterday if he hopes to stay a Knick for the rest of the season. "Hopefully," he said, "a Knick for life."
Walsh kept his options open about trading either Lee or Robinson, but only if a star-quality player had become available to him. "They'd have to be pretty major players," Walsh said. "And I didn't really expect that."
The 6-10 Wilcox, 26, fills a desperate need for toughness and athleticism in the frontcourt in exchange for Rose, who has been buried on the bench most of the season. Both players have expiring contracts, so the Knicks didn't have to add any payroll. It cost them only cash considerations.
Wilcox and Joe Smith were traded to the Hornets earlier this week in the Tyson Chandler deal that was rescinded late Wednesday night. Chandler failed his physical and the Thunder opted to turn down the deal. That opened the door for the Knicks to make the deal for Wilcox, which in turn allowed the Knicks to give up Thomas to complete the Hughes deal.
Hughes, 30, is an experienced scorer who has spent most of the season on the inactive list for the Bulls after guard Kirk Hinrich returned from an injury. The frustrated Hughes had become enough of a distraction that the Bulls had no problem accepting Jerome James in the deal even though the 7-1, 320-pound center is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles. The Bulls are banking on James not being able to play next season, which would mean his $6.6-million salary would be paid by insurance. But the salary still would count against their salary cap and he still would take up a roster spot, which is why the Knicks were glad to move him.
Hughes and Thomas essentially are a wash for the Knicks, because both players have contracts that expire after the 2009-10 season.
As expected, Stephon Marbury wasn't traded before the deadline. To be eligible for a playoff roster, he has until March 1 to come to a buyout agreement with the Knicks and sign with another team.