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Knicks Get Spree, Lose Starks

Latrell Sprewell's second chance will be with the Golden State Warriors for guard John Starks and forwards Chris Mills and Terry Cummings.

A three-time All-Star with a history of trouble with teammates, coaches and management, Sprewell has not played since he was suspended without pay for the final 68 games of the 1997-98 season for twice attacking Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo during a practice Dec. 1, 1997.

Knicks management made the trade after meeting face-to-face with Sprewell and conducting extensive background checks, team president and general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Thursday.

"We saw he was upset about what happened in the past and wanted a second opportunity," Grunfeld said in a teleconference. "We're gonna be supportive of him and with him."

Sprewell still has to meet with NBA commissioner David Stern and Players Association executive director Billy Hunter and provide assurances that he will control his temper. Sprewell is expected to join the Knicks in the next several days, Grunfeld said.

"In the new collective bargaining agreement there will be certain behavior issues," Madison Square Garden president and CEO Dave Checketts said.

Sprewell's natural position is shooting guard, where the Knicks already have Allan Houston. With his defensive versatility, Sprewell is expected to shift to small forward, joining a frontcourt that includes star center Patrick Ewing.

"He's an explosive offensive player," Grunfeld said. "He's a fierce competitor. I think he's committed to winning."

Some believed Sprewell simply should have been committed after his attack on Carlesimo, which led to the longest non-drug ban in league history.

Initially, Sprewell was suspended for one year without pay by the NBA, with the Warriors terminating his contract, which had two-plus years and nearly $25 million remaining. But Sprewell filed grievances through the union against the NBA and the Warriors.

On March 4, 1998, arbitrator John Feerick reinstated Sprewell's contract and reduced his suspension by five months. The ban cost him $6.4 million, but he has two years at $17.3 million remaining on his contract.

The incident transcended sports as a labor-management issue and raised unsubstantiated questions of acism, becoming an enormous public relations disaster for the image-conscious league. With his braided hair and defiant attitude, Sprewell became a flashpoint for critics of the NBA.

With Carlesimo still their coach, the Warriors had no intention of keeping Sprewell and had been entertaining offers for the talented but troubled guard, who since having his suspension reduced has filed lawsuits against the team, the NBA and agent Arn Tellem.

Sprewell, 28, had been rumored to be headed to the Miami Heat or San Antonio Spurs, but neither team could put together the package the Warriors desired.

"We wish Latrell well in his career with the Knicks," said Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean, who has been intent on trading Sprewell since the attacks on Carlesimo. "We're extremely happy with those three gentlemen that are coming here."

Latrell Sprewell will join the new-look Knicks.>
Latrell Sprewell will join the new-look Knicks. (AP)

Starks, 33, is returning to the Warriors. The nine-year veteran began his career with Golden State in the 1988-89 season but spent a season in the CBA before blossoming in New York.

An emotional player, Starks averaged 12.9 points primarily as a reserve last season. That was about a point per game lower than his 1996-97 average, which earned him Sixth Man Award honors.

Mills, 29, joins his fourth team in less than two years. The 6-7 forward spent four seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers before signing a five-year deal with the Boston Celtics last summer. However, he was traded before playing a game for the Celtics and averaged 9.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 80 games.

"He did a terrific job for us when he came into the league," said Warriors assistant GM Gary Fitzsimmons, who had a say in drafting Mills when he was with the Cavaliers.

Cummings, 37, joins his seventh team and fifth in three years. He is not nearly the player he was earlier this decade but still can be effective and is a positive force in the locker room. Last season, Cummings averaged 6.3 points and 3.8 points in 74 games for the Philadelphia 76ers and Knicks.

Cummings was the second overall pick in the 1982 draft and was named 1983 Rookie of the Year with the San Diego Clippers. He was traded to Milwaukee in 1984 and was a two-time All-Star in five seasons with the Bucks.

In 1989, Cummings was dealt to San Antonio and spent six seasons with the Spurs. He has career averages of better than 17 points per game and just under eight rebounds.

"We gave up some very good players in this deal, but we got back what we think is a great player," Grunfeld sai.

Prior to Sprewell's ban, the longest suspension for violence in league history was the 26 games given to Kermit Washington for punching opponent Rudy Tomjanovich during a game in 1977.

While Sprewell's attitude remains a question mark, there is no questioning his talent. Before his ban, he was averaging 21.4 points and 4.9 assists, adding excellent defensive play.

Sprewell was a steal as the 24th overall pick in the 1992 draft. He averaged 15.4 points and was named to the All-Rookie second team.

The Milwaukee native averaged no lower than 18.9 points in each of the next four seasons, making the All-Star team in 1994, 1995 and 1997. His best season came in 1996-97, when he averaged career highs of 24.2 points and 6.3 assists.

© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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