Marbury's exit could lead to Thomas' departure

Adrian Wojnarowski
The Vertical

So, Stephon Marbury walked out on the New York Knicks. He just packed his bags and bailed on Tuesday, catching a flight out of Phoenix for Planet Starbury. This is what happens to a franchise when it’s turned over to knuckleheads and con men. From within, it implodes.

Today, Marbury.

Tomorrow, Isiah Thomas.

“I have one thing to say and that’s I got permission to leave,” Marbury countered in a text message Tuesday afternoon to the New York Post’s Marc Berman. “I would never leave my team on my own. What I’m telling you is that I got permission to leave from Isiah. He said I could go home.”

Soon, there were reports that these two had it out on the team’s flight to Phoenix on Monday, and again at the Knicks hotel before Marbury fled for a flight to New York.

As much as ever, Thomas and Marbury deserve one another. Once, these two turned together on Larry Brown and Anucha Browne Sanders, the former Knicks employee who sued the team for sexual harassment. It was just a matter of time until they turned on each other.

Clearly, Thomas has decided to go after Marbury, and you have to wonder how much his owner, Jim Dolan, is behind this move. Thomas knew he’d have the public support for benching Marbury, but probably didn’t expect Marbury would create this circus by leaving the team.

Just Tuesday morning, the New York Daily News reported Marbury had been angry over learning he wouldn’t start against the Suns tonight. For most of his five seasons in New York, Marbury had been at odds with Thomas over how he was expected to play the point. Thomas wanted defense, passing and leadership. Marbury wanted to be Starbury. The Daily News even reported that there had been some discussion within the Knicks about ending Marbury’s tenure with the franchise, presumably through a buyout even before Marbury returned to New York on Tuesday.

Just one week ago, Marbury had played beautifully in a victory over the Denver Nuggets, and the frontline of Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry looked tough, and you thought, maybe, just maybe, there was something still redeemable in this wreckage. Yet, that’s all the Knicks have been built for under Thomas. Just flashes, never staying power.

Through it all, Marbury has reminded everyone that his ultimate motivation is never winning, never leading – never anything but living in his own bizarre world.

“It seems like he and I go through this every November, then a couple of weeks go by and we kind of kiss and make up, then we go back to the business of trying to win basketball games,” Thomas said.

That’s a load of garbage. This time, it’s different. And Thomas knows it. Marbury has always been on the edge, but he pushed the limits of his own strange self this past summer. First, there was an appearance on a New York sports talk show, where his speech was slurred and his presence discombobulated. And then, after testifying in the Thomas sexual harassment trial to having sex with a Knicks intern in a parked truck, Marbury pranced merrily out of the courtroom, singing to himself. As usual, Marbury made a humiliating episode worse with his indifference.

They can’t go on this way with Marbury. Once more, Thomas will have to walk into his owner’s office and tell him: Eat another contract. He has to go to the Garden’s Richie Rich, Dolan, and ask him to reach into his pockets to fix another one of Thomas’ mistakes.

All that’ll cost Dolan is the balance of a buyout on the $42 million owed Marbury over this season and next.

The possibility of a trade is relatively remote, but not impossible. Even so, it’s hard to imagine there’s a franchise willing to let him pollute it for the rest of this season, never mind another. If Marbury was in the final year of his contract, yes, there would probably be takers in a deal that would allow them salary-cap relief once his contract expired in 2009. Nevertheless, there could be teams willing to make a move for Marbury with the idea of buying him out immediately.

There was always this idea that somehow Marbury could change, grow up and transform his selfish self into a leader. He would speak of studying old point guard footage of Bob Cousy, but end up playing like World B. Free. He would tell his old coach with the Nets, Byron Scott, that he wanted to know everything about how Magic Johnson ran the Showtime Lakers, but his miserable, rainy disposition alienated teammates and isolated himself.

From the day Thomas traded for Marbury in 2004, the Knicks enabled his sense of entitlement, the fantasyland he had concocted in his mind where he was forever the over-hyped prodigy out of Coney Island. All along, Marbury had been trained to believe that basketball was a business where you took and took, and never gave back. At the core, point guards need to be givers, and Marbury is the ultimate taker.

He has fantastic street smarts, real intelligence and always gave people what they wanted to hear to buy himself more time: regular revelations of epiphanies. Once, it was wearing an orange jump suit in a short prison sentence for a DUI in Phoenix, and then the trade to his hometown Knicks, the chance to learn to be a point guard under Thomas and Brown, and this summer, those embarrassing episodes had Marbury declaring that he had changed again by finding God.

For now, anyway, Marbury will be Thomas’ scapegoat. This isn’t his fault, the way that the blame for Brown didn’t fall on him. The Knicks are just five games into the season, and they’re in chaos, full crisis mode. Marbury has walked out the door, and probably played his final game with the Knicks.

Today, Marbury.

Tomorrow, Thomas.