The most controversial and popular member of the Knicks, the player who made cornrows fashionable, the guy who went mano-a-mano against Tim Duncan in the final game of the finals, might be out of New York in a flash.
Farewell, Latrell? It could happen any day.
The Knicks have spent the last few weeks shopping Latrell Sprewell, gauging his trade value.
Although no one seems certain whether the Knicks are serious about getting rid of the one-time coach-choker, Sprewell actually could have been a goner three weeks ago in a trade for Scottie Pippen.
"His name was discussed, he was available," said a high-ranking official with the Houston Rockets, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He was never formally offered, but that's only because we decided quickly to do the trade with Portland."
Sprewell trade rumors have been floating around all preseason. Lakers coach Phil Jackson talked about a possible Glen Rice-Sprewell trade, and it's no secret that the Knicks twice approached the Seattle SuperSonics to ask about Gary Payton.
Opposing general managers have also heard that the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are coveting Sprewell. But it seems unlikely that Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts would approve a trade of such a fan favorite to the former coach he despises, Pat Riley, or the former team president he dumped in April, Ernie Grunfeld.
"Obviously they're shopping me, and obviously there's a chance that I could re-sign," Sprewell said. "I don't know which way it'll go. It's a tossup right now."
On the surface, it seems difficult to fathom that a team like the Knicks, which made the NBA Finals last season in large part because of Sprewell, would even consider parting with such a talented player.
Sprewell, however, is no ordinary talented player.
In 1997 he received the longest suspension and what amounted to the largest fine in league history for attacking and threatening the life of Golden State Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo.
He drives recklessly, stayed incommunicado all summer and has a reputation of being a troublemaker. In the Knicks' locker room, he's pretty much a loner.
Many owners and general managers around the league remain philosophically opposed to acquiring such a volatile player.
"They don't know me, they haven't coached me, they don't know that I come to practice every day and what I do," Sprewell said. "They just know what they're read and hear from a few other people. As far as I'm concerned, it's their loss and not mne."
Sprewell was on his best public behavior last season, but there was an underlying current of tension between him and his coach, Jeff Van Gundy a mutual distaste for each other that was stoked by Sprewell's desire to be a starter rather than a sixth man.
"Last year, you could sense it. This year I don't," said teammate Allan Houston, who like the rest of the team is trying not to be distracted by all the turmoil surrounding Sprewell. "My gut feeling is I don't think it will happen, but it's a business where you can't be too naive. You just don't know."
Teammate Rick Brunson said: "If it was a crazy trade that was good for the Knicks, they'd do it."
"There was only one untradeable player in the league, and he's not playing anymore," he added, referring to Michael Jordan.
Things started going wrong for the Knicks from Day 1 at training camp, when everyone but Sprewell gathered for Van Gundy's annual stump speech. Sprewell was in California for the final stages of a civil trial related to a freeway accident he admittedly caused by weaving his Mercedes in and out of traffic at 80-90 mph.
Sprewell's agent told the Knicks he would join them after closing arguments, then following a verdict. After that happened and Sprewell essentially won the case, the Knicks waited in earnest for four more days without a word.
It turned out Sprewell decided to drive cross-country with a stop at his home in Milwaukee. All along, he ignored the Knicks' phone calls.
Sprewell ended up missing the first five days of camp, and the Knicks fined him $30,000 and suspended him for one exhibition game costing him another $100,000.
In the nearly two weeks since, Van Gundy has made Sprewell a starter. He has been their leading scorer in exhibition games all the while knowing the Knicks were involved in trade talks with him as the centerpiece.
"If I'm here with the Knicks or back with the Warriors, it doesn't matter," Sprewell said. "I'm here to play ball, and I don't care what team you put me on. I feel that nobody can stop me when I'm on. Whatever team I go to, whoever I play for, I feel they are going to be the team that benefits."
Checketts said over the summer that the Knicks were eager to begin discussing a contract extension with Sprewell, who is entering the final year of his deal and will be a free agent in the summer if he's not re-signed.
Sprewell's agent, Robert Gist, says he will ask for the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement six years and $78 million.
Sprewell seems to be bothered by the fact that those negotiations have not yet begun, although he insists that had nothing to do with his unexcused absence from camp.
"After this year, I'll be able to do what I want to do and go where I want to go," he said. "I don't ave to sign, and if they trade me (someplace undesirable) I'll wait and go where I want to go."
"And if I don't sign with the Knicks this year, then they're going to lose out if they don't trade me. So I understand that they have to protect their interests and I have to do what's best for me. It's a situation where we're both trying to be happy whether it's trading me or signing me."
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