CLEVELAND — The New York Knicks signed free-agent center Randolph Morris to a two-year contract Friday, adding the former Kentucky star to their roster thanks to an unusual provision in the NBA's collective bargaining agreement.
Morris, the Wildcats' leading scorer this season, declared himself eligible for the 2005 draft following his freshman year but was not selected. He decided to return to school and played two more seasons.
Due to a condition in the CBA, Morris was not eligible to re-enter another draft. He had free-agent status throughout his junior season but decided to play out the year with the Wildcats, who were eliminated in the NCAA tournament last weekend by Kansas.
The Knicks, who are battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, jumped at the chance to add a player for the future.
"We said all along that in terms of building this team we would have to find unconventional ways to try and 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."
Thomas said Morris will soon join and practice with the Knicks, who love the potential in the 6-foot-11, 260-pounder.
"It's another guy we can add to our young core," Thomas said. "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."
Thomas said several other teams were "chasing" Morris.
Morris' decision came a day after coach Tubby Smith left Kentucky to become the head coach at Minnesota.
Kentucky spokesman Scott Stricklin said athletic director Mitch Barnhart met with Morris late Thursday night and asked Morris to wait until a new coach was in place before deciding whether to leave.
Morris blossomed this season, becoming the most consistent player for the Wildcats, who went 22-12. Thomas said the Knicks worked out Morris before the 2005 draft and considered taking him.
If Morris had been in this year's draft, Thomas guessed he would have been "one of the top 15 to 20 guys."
Thomas likes Morris' hands and his ability to score inside. He should benefit from New York's offensive system, which puts premium on getting the ball to the post.
"He'll benefit from us pounding it inside, and it will give us more options to go inside," Thomas said. "He has played in a big-time program. He's used to playing in front of big crowds. He played for a tough coach, so we're getting a player who has more or less been through the wringers and been through the wars and rigors of college."