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Knicks Sign Houston, Childs; Trade for Johnson

July 15, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ The New York Knicks changed three-fifths of their starting lineup and became the first team to make multiple moves in the free agent market Sunday as they acquired Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Chris Childs.

The Knicks acquired Johnson from the Charlotte Hornets for Anthony Mason and Brad Lohaus, a trade that could not be finalized until New York had decided how to spend its $9.2 million in salary cap money.

That part of the equation was solved Saturday when Houston agreed to leave the Detroit Pistons for $56 million over seven years and Childs agreed to leave the New Jersey Nets for $24 million over six years.

``We hit the jackpot,″ general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. ``We’ll be one of the top teams competing for the championship, not only this year but for years to come.″

To make room under the salary cap for the three new players, the Knicks renounced their rights to Derek Harper, J.R. Reid, Gary Grant, Willie Anderson, Eric Anderson, Anthony Tucker and Ron Grandison.

Johnson will replace Mason at small forward, Houston will move ahead of John Starks and Hubert Davis at shooting guard and Childs will replace Harper at the point.

``The not-so-great part of this is losing a player of Derek Harper’s quality,″ coach Jeff van Gundy said. ``His play and leadership contributed a great deal to me keeping my job here.″

For the Hornets, the move was another step in the breakup of a team that has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In the past year, Charlotte has traded away Alonzo Mourning, Hersey Hawkins, Kendall Gill and Johnson. The Hornets also stand to lose Kenny Anderson, who is a free agent.

The Knicks originally took aim at Gary Payton of Seattle, then backed off when they felt he would likely re-sign with the SuperSonics.

The Knicks made an offer to Houston on Friday night and were ready to go after Reggie Miller of Indiana if the offer was turned down, Grunfeld said.

Houston accepted the offer early Saturday morning without giving his old team, the Detroit Pistons, a chance to match it. The Knicks then came to an agreement with Childs later in the day, beating out seven other teams.

``At this point in my career, this is the best thing for me,″ said Houston, one of the best jump shooters in the league. ``I’m looking forward to playing with Chris, Larry and Patrick (Ewing), and hopefully we can take some of the pressure off each other.″

The 6-foot-6 Houston averaged a career-high 19.7 points and shot 43 percent from 3-point range last season for the Pistons, who were upset at not having an opportunity to match New York’s offer.

The 6-foot-3 Childs started 54 games at point guard for New Jersey last season, averaging 5.8 points and 4.1 assists. He becomes the highest paid former CBA player in the NBA.

``This is a business, and in a business you have to be ready to move on. I was ready to move on,″ Childs said.

The acquisition of Johnson was perhaps the biggest of the day for the Knicks, who will miss Mason’s defensive prowess but will gain a much more proficient scorer.

Johnson, 27, has seven years remaining on an $84 million contract. The two-time All-Star, five-year veteran and the Rookie of the Year in 1992 averaged 20.5 points and 8.4 rebounds last season for Charlotte. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1991 draft and was the Hornets’ franchise leader in scoring and rebounding.

``We’ve put so much emphasis on the half-court defense, but we’ve learned that scoring 84 or 85 points per game isn’t going to do it,″ Van Gundy said. ``It’s no coincidence that three of the top four scoring teams in the league were Chicago, Seattle and Orlando, and with these three players hopefully we’ll be a more balanced team.″

Mason, who spent five years with the Knicks, is one of the best defenders in the league. He averaged 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds last season _ the best of his seven-year NBA career.

Lohaus, a 3-point shooting 7-footer, played in 23 games for New York last season and was left off the playoff roster because of his poor defense. The Hornets will be his eighth pro team.

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