NEW YORK, July 14 -- In the space of a few minutes late Sunday afternoon the New York Knicks went from an old, weary team to a rejuvenated contender in the NBA's Eastern Conference. Following a press conference announcing the signing of their new backcourt tandem of free agents Allan Houston and Chris Childs, the Knicks made public the long-rumored acquisition of Larry Johnson from Charlotte. New York gave up forwards Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus in the exchange. The Knicks roster overhaul also saw the release of six players: Derek Harper, J.R. Reid, Eric Anderson, Willie Anderson, Gary Grant, Ron Grandison and Anthony Tucker. 'We are committed to bringing a title to New York,' said Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts. 'Ernie (General Manager Grunfeld) has done a super job in getting this done so quickly.' 'We're very excited about having Larry, Allan, and Chris coming aboard because we feel that not only are they the kind of players we need to compete for a championship, but also the type of people that will contribute to a better team chemistry, and one that is a championship-type chemistry,' Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. The Johnson deal, which continues Charlotte's offseason roster shake- up, was much-anticipated and reportedly was held up while the teams finalized details of a trade bonus in Johnson's contract. Johnson has nine years and $70 million left on a 12-year contract worth $84 million with a clause that gives him an additional $10 million if traded, unless he gives up his right to a 15 percent trade waiver.
'Once we get into camp, build some chemistry together, there is no limit to how good we can be,' Johnson said. 'There's no place like New York. There's nothing like the New York fans. You go out and give 110 percent, that's what I intend to do.' Johnson, 27, gives the Knicks a second All-Star player to complement star center Patrick Ewing. He averaged 20.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last year for the Hornets. The 25-year-old Houston, a shooting guard who played the first three years of his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons and emerged as one of the league's rising stars, agreed to a seven-year contract worth $56 million, according to the New York Daily News. 'Hopefully, we can take a lot of pressure off each other and compete for a championship,' said Houston regarding Childs. The 28-year-old Childs played the last two years with the New Jersey Nets and replaced Kenny Anderson as the team's starting point guard last year. ESPN reported that Childs came to terms on a six-year, $24 million deal. 'The Knicks signing of Houston tipped the scales for me,' Childs said. 'Also I wanted six years and the Nets wouldn't give it to me. Houston can shoot the ball and I am going to a team that is building towards a championship. (more)
'They are both outstanding players,' Van Gundy said of his revamped backcourt. 'They are remarkable players, with Houston being a great perimeter shooting guard. He is one of the best young talents in the NBA and has a superstar future. Childs is a good player, he is solid. I like him very much.' The 6-7, 250-pound Johnson, the first overall pick in the 1991 draft, missed 31 games three years ago due to lower back problems. But he played in 81 games each of the last two seasons. Johnson averaged 19.6 points and 9.2 rebounds in five years with the Hornets. He was a member of the gold medal-winning United States Dream Team II at the World Championship Games in Toronto in the summer of 1994. Johnson enjoyed his best season in 1992-93 when he averaged 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds. The 29-year-old Mason has five years left on a six-year, $24 million contract signed last summer. He won the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award two years ago and led the league in minutes played this past season. Mason is regarded as a better defensive player than Johnson, and averaged a career-best 14.8 points for the Knicks in 1995-96. The 6-6, 200-pound Houston, a first-round pick of the Pistons out of Tennessee in 1993, averaged 19.7 points per game this past season. The Knicks have been searching for a consistent long-range shooter to take the heat off Ewing inside. The rumor mill was filled with reports that the Knicks would make a run at free agent Reggie Miller, but they apparently had Houston at the top of their list of shooting guards. Houston shot 45.3 percent from the field last season and converted 42.7 percent of his three-point attempts. He also contributed 3.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. The addition of Houston will likely force the Knicks to trade one of their shooting guards, John Starks or Hubert Davis. 'Our defense suffered last year and we didn't have enough players to get over the hump,' Van Gundy said. 'It's more about adding to the mix with the best possible players you can get, even at the risk of overloading at one position.' The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Childs was a find for the Nets last season and played so well the team dealt Anderson to Charlotte to give him the starting job. He averaged 12.8 points, seven assists and 3.1 rebounds in 78 starts, including 54 starts, for the Nets in his second NBA season. With guard Harper gone, Childs and Charlie Ward will share the point guard duty. 'I feel strongly about Derek Harper and what he has meant to us,' Van Gundy said. 'In the two and a half years he has been here he has been great. Any team fortunate enough to sign him will benefit greatly. To get quality you have to give quality up.' Childs attended Boise State and had his NBA career delayed due to alcohol problems. The Hornets began their own roster overturn Thursday when they acquired center Vlade Divac from the Los Angeles Lakers for the rights to high school guard Kobe Bryant. The deal for Divac was initially announced on June 27, the day after the Hornets selected Bryant with the 13th pick in the NBA draft. The trade could not be completed until the moratorium on deals was lifted, when a new collective bargaining agreement was signed by owners and the Players Association Thursday.