NEW YORK — Charlie Ward is the answer to some flattering trivia questions, most notably as the only Heisman trophy winner to play in the NBA.
So, Ward’s not exactly heartbroken about losing his association with another streak — the one of dubious distinction in Knicks history.
“Sounds good to me,” Ward told the New York Daily News, adding that he hears about the Charlie Ward Curse “all the time.”
Until RJ Barrett agreed to an extension this week, Ward was the last Knicks first rounder to sign a second contract off his rookie deal, when he inked a $28 million contract in 1999. The 23-year drought encapsulated, perhaps better than any other statistic, the impatience and instability that saddled James Dolan’s era, particularly when Isiah Thomas was making decisions.
As the years and errant draft picks accumulated, Ward’s name was connected to the streak with more frequency to underscore the extreme length of time. It developed into a curse because reasonable explanations lost their reason.
“I’m just happy that (Barrett’s) done well and they’ve given him an opportunity to be there a few more years,” Ward said. “That’s been very difficult over these last few years of just having a revolving door of players coming through. Time and time again. And I’m just happy that we’ll have one for a few more years.”
The Knicks drafted 24 players in the first round since Ward signed his extension in 1999, with a list that reads like nights of regret and inebriated texting. None stuck around for his second contract.
Remember Frederic Weis, the 19th overall pick in 1999? He was dunked on by Vince Carter in the Olympics and never recovered.
How about Mike Sweetney in 2003? No comment.
Recent lottery picks Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox? Gone and gone.
Even when the Knicks made a good choice — whether it was David Lee in 2005, Danilo Gallinari in 2008, Iman Shumpert in 2011 and Kristaps Porzingis in 2015 — the players were typically traded after an executive was fired and a new regime stepped in.
But Barrett’s path, at least thus far, is a straight line. He was the highest Knicks draft pick (third overall) since Patrick Ewing. He improved noticeably over three seasons. He’s now the first to re-sign off his rookie contract since the 90s, with a four-year, $107 million deal (it can reach $120 million with bonuses) that represents the most lucrative in Knicks history.
It’s a symbol of the stability that has long evaded the Knicks, but Ward warned that patience is still required and expectations shouldn’t change because of the elevated salary.
“You just have to make sure you continue to pour into him and allow him to be who he is, and not try to create him into being something that people think he should be,” Ward said. “What I mean by that is he may be a piece to a puzzle. He may not be the big-time scorer that everyone thinks he should be because of a contract. So if he could just be a person who is a go-to guy, who is reliable and dependable offensively, and not try to be the main scorer every night like people want him to be.”
There’s a catch, of course. There’s always a catch. Barrett wasn’t a lock to re-sign because of the trade talks for Donovan Mitchell. The circumstances delayed the extension to less than a month before training camp opens, with ESPN reporting that the Knicks set a deadline of Monday to either negotiate a trade involving Barrett or offer him the new contract.
The negotiations for Mitchell are ongoing but Barrett’s extension makes it difficult, though not impossible, to include him in such deal because of new contract details. Even without Barrett, who would’ve mitigated the number of picks and prospects included by New York, team president Leon Rose still owns the most compelling package for the rebuilding Jazz.
Rose’s glut of first-round picks, accumulated over two cautious front office regimes, can be dangled with young prospects Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. According to a source, Jazz executive Danny Ainge desires at least six first rounders from the Knicks with an emphasis on the unprotected ones.
Ward is against adding Mitchell, believing it’s a bad fit next to ball-dominant players like Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. It’s also one of those flashy and big-gamble deals that could start an RJ Barrett Curse if it backfires.
“I’m not a big fan. (Mitchell’s) another guy that needs the basketball,” Ward said. “And so, if you have multiple guys like that on your team, in order to be successful, it makes it difficult. Yes, you need scoring. But you also need guys who don’t need the ball. So if you bring Donovan Mitchell to the team than you’re going to probably stunt one of the younger guy’s growth. Like an RJ Barrett. And having Jalen Brunson, the way he plays, and add a Mitchell, and from what I’ve seen the way he plays, that’s a lot of dribbling. That’s a lot of one-on-one play. And yes, those things may come in handy at some point. But then you got to factor in how the other guys fit into that mix.”