PHOENIX, Nov. 14, 2007 — -- Stephon Marbury left the New York Knicks on Tuesday, fueling speculation that his future with the team is in doubt.
And it appears that Marbury fired a warning shot at his coach before he left.
The New York Daily News reported the trouble reportedly started during the team's flight to Phoenix, when Marbury learned from teammate Eddy Curry that coach Isiah Thomas planned to use him as a backup and start second-year guard Mardy Collins. A person close to the situation told the Daily News that Starbury reportedly marched to the front of the plane to confront Thomas over the situation, then returned five minutes later and claimed he had leverage on Thomas.
"Isiah has to start me," Marbury reportedly said, according to the Daily News. "I've got so much [stuff] on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can [get] me. But I'll [get] him first. You have no idea what I know."
The point guard reportedly sent two text messages to the New York Post saying that he had permission to leave the team in Phoenix and fly back to New York. He arrived at approximately 4 p.m.
"I have one thing to say, and that's I got permission to leave," Marbury wrote. "I would never leave my team on my own. What I'm telling you is that I got permission to leave from Isiah. He said I could go home. God bless. Peace be with you."
Marbury indicated that he would likely not join the team for Wednesday's game against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
"No, I'm not coming to LA as of now," he said.
Several area media outlets reported earlier on Tuesday that Marbury had missed the Knicks' morning practice before the game against the Suns.
Thomas would not confirm that he allowed Marbury to leave. In fact, the Knicks' coach avoided the subject altogether in his meeting with reporters before the Suns' game.
"We'll talk about the Phoenix Suns and the game at hand," he said. "Whatever matters we have in-house we'll try to keep in-house."
Thomas declined to comment on reports in the New York Daily News earlier Tuesday that Marbury's role would be "reduced" and that there had been discussions to try to move Marbury.
Marbury's contract is worth $42 million over the next two seasons. If the Knicks buy out Marbury, he'd be a free agent. He could also be traded.
Ironically, Marbury and Thomas are both represented by agent Jordan Bazant. Bazant has not returned a phone call from 1050 ESPN New York seeking comment.
Several of Marbury's teammates said his departure took them by surprise, but they expressed no hard feelings.
"You always support your teammates," forward Jared Jeffries said. "A lot of people on the outside don't understand what guys go through with their family, their friends, with this team, with anything. Whenever somebody goes through a tough time you support your teammate."
Mardy Collins got the start in Marbury's place, but said he would love to have him back.
"Yeah, definitely. He's been nothing but good to me ever since I've been here. There's not a bad thing I can say about Steph," Collins said. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm just here and whenever my number is called I go out there and compete."
Thomas would not say whether Marbury would be punished.
"Any type of penalty or suspension will be in-house and we'll try to keep it within the confines of our team. This is an in-house matter with our team and we'll keep it and leave it at that," Thomas told reporters. "We hope to see [Marbury] tonight at the game. However, if he's not, make no mistake about it, we want him as a member of our basketball team."
Marbury came to Phoenix with his Knicks teammates on Monday. On Tuesday afternoon, his whereabouts created confusion. Thomas told reporters he was unsure if Marbury was still in Phoenix, and Knicks vice president of public relations Jonathan Supranowitz said Marbury was "doubtful" in an interview with 1050 ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand.
The game against the Suns is the first of four on a West Coast swing for New York.
Thomas said this was not the first time this kind of incident has happened.
"It seems like he and I go through this every November, then a couple of weeks go by and we kind of kiss and make up, then we go back to the business of trying to win basketball games," he said.
Following a contentious relationship with former coach Larry Brown, Marbury soon learned playing for Thomas would not be any easier.
Early last season, Marbury found himself spending extended time on the bench in the second half of games, including some in which he didn't start the third period.
"... Make no mistake about it, if I don't get exactly what I want, then there'll be consequences," Thomas said then.
As president of the Knicks, Thomas brought Marbury back to his hometown in 2004 and the two seemed to be close. That changed, however, when Thomas also became the head coach last season.
"My relationship as a coach is definitely a different relationship as president," Thomas said. "When you're coaching, I don't think there's a player that I've ever coached that hasn't at some point in time not liked me. But that's what coaching's all about."
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.