Isiah Thomas is not convinced Allan Houston will ever be an All-Star caliber player again and hinted that early retirement is an option Houston may want to consider.Thomas, the Knicks president, didn’t totally dismiss the idea of Houston hanging them up before his contract, which runs through the 2006-07 season, expires. Asked during a conference call yesterday if Houston’s condition – chronic knee pain – could reach a point where the Knicks ask their veteran shooting guard to retire, Thomas said: “I think Allan has to make the decision himself in terms of retiring. That’s a question that only the player can answer. That’s probably a good question for you to ask him. As an organization we’ll continue to support him and try to help him overcome his injuries.”
Houston has missed the last three games due to a sore left knee but is expected to play tomorrow night against the Cavaliers. That same injury sidelined Houston for nine months, including last year’s playoff series against New Jersey as well as the first 18 games of the 2004-05 season. In the 20 games Houston has appeared in, he has struggled to run and jump and looks nothing like the Knick who was once regarded as an elite player at his position.
“I think we all hope that he can get back to being Allan,” Thomas said. “But I think realistically we may all have to come to the conclusion that he may not ever get there again and we may have to start dealing with that reality.”
The Knicks did not practice yesterday and Houston was unavailable for comment. On Tuesday, Houston was aware of comments Thomas made on Michael Kay’s radio show on ESPN during which he also alluded to Houston’s best days being behind him.
Houston appeared disappointed by Thomas’ evaluation but declined to comment. He did, however, say that he had no intentions of retiring and that he is confident he will be a productive player again. Houston’s agent, William Strickland, said yesterday that he and his client have never discussed retirement.
“It has never been a thought in our minds,” Strickland said. “I will only say that I know it’s been Allan’s desire to return to the floor at a level of play he feels comfortable with. He has considerable belief and faith in himself.”
Houston, who signed a team record six-year, $100 million contract after the 2001 season, will earn $17.5 million this year, $19.1 million next year and $20.7 million in 2006-07.
Should Houston retire, his contract would still count against the salary cap unless the Knicks could prove he suffered a career-ending injury. Theoretically, the Knicks could have the last year of Houston’s contract removed from their books, which wouldn’t necessarily put them under the cap.
In many ways, Thomas has already moved on from looking at Houston as the Knicks starting shooting guard. Last summer, Thomas acquired Jamal Crawford in a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls. Crawford, who signed a seven-year, $56 million contract, is the team’s second leading scorer but he is shooting 39% and his shot selection has baffled the team.
By publicly questioning whether Houston can regain his old form, Thomas runs the risk of alienating a veteran whose contract sits at the top of the Impossible To Trade list. Houston is well-respected in the locker room and has strong backing from Garden chairman James Dolan, an occasional golfing buddy.
Thomas fully realizes the enormity of the challenge he faces when it comes to rebuilding the Knicks. The team is currently 17-24 and could end up in the draft lottery. Thomas is convinced that he can make one or two moves this summer to upgrade the roster.
Thomas defended the Knicks’ record, saying that injuries to Houston, Tim Thomas and Crawford have undermined the season.
“If we’re a healthy team we’re not in this situation,” said Thomas, whose team has lost 11 of 12 games. “Don’t just think this is how it is. We’ve had a lot of people injured. If we’re healthy we’re a .500 team or above. We haven’t had Allan Houston for basically the two years I’ve been here.”
NY Daily News