November 17, 2011
In 2008, the New York Knicks rid themselves of an uninspired Zach Randolph(notes), sending him to the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade package that brought back shooting guard Cuttino Mobley(notes). Soon after, Mobley was encouraged to retire by Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh after a heart specialist was left unnerved following Mobley's physical exam -- the doctor was worried about Mobley's hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The retirement did little to affect New York's cap space or eventual lottery standing, and even in the midst of a rebuilding process it seemed as if the Knicks were hurt more by Mobley's absence than Mobley (who was paid in full following his retirement) was hurt by missing a year playing on a terrible Knicks team.
Three years later, Mobley is suing the Knicks and their owner James Dolan, arguing that the team forced Cuttino to retire in order to save nearly $19 million in combined insurance and luxury tax savings. Also, this makes absolutely no sense, and it's more than a little sad.
James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks, is a terrible basketball team owner. His squad makes quite a bit of money; but even though the Knicks did earn a playoff berth last spring for the first time in seven years Dolan still ranks as one of the worst professional team owners in all of American sport. The laundry list of reasons why is too long to go over, especially in polite company, so you'll just have to fall back on Dolan's giant payrolls and massive crush on Isiah Thomas to work as trenchant evidence.
So for Mobley to claim that Dolan was only out to save $19 million in combined luxury tax and insurance-aided payroll relief by asking Cuttino to retire, well, you'll have to possibly side with Dolan on this matter if you have any working knowledge of the NBA. After all, this is the man that signed off on handing Jerome James(notes) and Eddy Curry(notes) a combined $89 million in a three month span back in 2005.
Marc Berman of the New York Post takes it from here:
"[…] the suit's other claim that Mobley's retirement helped Walsh in his 2010 quest to get under the salary cap to sign "marquee'' free agents does not hold up. Mobley's contract expired after the 2009 season, which means he did not affect the Knicks' 2010 cap space whether he played or retired.
Sources said Walsh was "devastated'' by the loss of Mobley and coach Mike D'Antoni blamed part of that season's collapse on the vacuum created by Mobley's retirement. However, Walsh once said he'd do the trade again.
The lawsuit calls into question whether the Garden sacrificed wins during a rebuilding season to save money, since Dolan had been burdened for years with one of the league's highest payrolls and luxury-tax payments.
In a statement, the Knicks strongly denied allegations they purposely orchestrated Mobley's retirement to save money.
The Knicks did save quite a bit of money by encouraging Mobley to retire, but as Berman discussed you might recall that coach Mike D'Antoni spent most of 2008-09 kvetching about his terrible team, and its inability to compete in spite of what was obviously a rebuilding season. D'Antoni wanted Mobley, and Mobley could have played, in spite of his diagnosis. Walsh probably wanted Mobley around too, considering that the 2009 draft lottery only brought New York Jordan Hill(notes) as a reward for their shoddy season.
Then there's this quote, as recalled by the New York Times' Howard Beck, from Mobley in 2008:
The Knicks, in a statement, acknowledged Mobley's "frustration with the effects of his illness," and that's the best way of putting things at this unfortunate stage. Cat Mobley was paid in full for the duration of his guaranteed contract, and though it saved the Knicks quite a bit of cash, it's not as if his retirement aided the team's rebuilding process in any meaningful way. Could on record news of his diagnosis have prevented him from unretiring and hitting the free agent market in 2009? Sure; but expecting the Knicks to pay for that (literally and figuratively) is a bit much, Cuttino.
It's an unfortunate situation, all around. Mobley was a fun player to watch, and one of the more thoughtful and entertaining players the NBA had to offer. As a postscript, this lawsuit does no favors for all involved.