Morris follows Tubby out, signs with Knicks
By Jerry Tipton
Apparently, there was no off switch on the newfound hustle University of Kentucky center Randolph Morris showed this post-season.
Less than a week after saying he would explore his NBA options, Morris signed a two-year contract with the New York Knicks reportedly worth $1.6 million per season.
Morris signed only a day after Kentucky Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart asked him to delay a decision on turning pro until UK hired a coach to replace Tubby Smith.
Although Morris led the Wildcats in scoring (16.1 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg) and blocks (70), ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas saw the loss as more a temporary setback than a death blow to the UK program.
"As soon as Kentucky decides (on a coach), they'll be able to get good players," Bilas said. "This is part of a longer process. It's not just next season."
Bilas noted that coaching changes typically bring player defections. On Wednesday, Smith left UK after 10 seasons to become coach at the University of Minnesota.
Morris, one of three McDonald's All-Americans who joined UK in 2004, was in an unusual position of being an NBA free agent after his freshman season. He received that status because no team picked him in the 2005 NBA draft. NBA rules made him a free agent free to sign with any team at any time.
So Kentucky was fortunate that Morris did not leave abruptly in the way Christian Drejer bolted from Florida for a pro contract in Europe in 2003.
"Actually, it's better he did it now rather than two months from now," Bilas said. "When Kentucky gets a coach, he'll know exactly what they need."
Morris is expected to be in uniform as soon as Monday when the Knicks play Orlando.
"We said all along that in terms of building this team we would have to find unconventional ways to try to find talent and get out and beat the bushes," said Isiah Thomas, the Knicks' coach and director of basketball operations. "This is a very unique situation and I don't know if there has been something similar to this. The rules allowed it, and here we are."
When he entered the 2005 draft, Morris worked out for the Knicks. Speculation had him being taken by New York late in the first round.
Coincidentally, his contract equates to first-round money, on par with what the 26th pick received in last year's draft and what the 30th pick will receive this year, according to the NBA rookie salary scale.
"He'll benefit from us pounding it inside, and it will give us more options to go inside," Thomas said. "It's another guy we can add to our young core. We're very happy to have him. It's another 'big' and it's almost like another pick in this year's draft -- just a little early."
New York had another incentive to sign Morris. In a trade for big man Eddy Curry, the Knicks gave the Chicago Bulls the right to swap first-round picks in this year's draft. The Bulls are all but guaranteed to finish ahead of New York, and thus they would want to swap draft positions.
The Knicks are on the cusp of making the playoffs and would not want the embarrassment of giving Chicago a lottery pick.