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A sad season has come to an end for Knicks' Curry

TORONTO - Though his season essentially is over, Eddy Curry still is welcome to travel with the Knicks and blow off the team's training staff for workouts, as he has done several times this season. Not that anyone pays it any mind anymore.

Like Stephon Marbury before him, Curry has become - if he wasn't already - persona non grata in Mike D'Antoni's eyes. Wait 'til next year, indeed. "The bottom line is," D'Antoni said, "when we open up camp, he has to be ready."

As the Knicks' season was reduced to five meaningless games with last night's 112-103 win over the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, Curry has the official clearance to focus on the offseason and essentially save his career, which is unquestionably at a critical point.

"He's expressed that to me, that he doesn't want this to be his last contract," said Quentin Richardson, one of Curry's closest friends on the team. "He knows he has a lot of good years left. He's young. Right now he should be moving into his prime."

By now Curry, 26, should have been talking about exercising an early termination option in his contract this summer and looking for a max contract. Two seasons ago, he was in the conversation for all-star consideration. Now he's fallen so far off the radar that even Shaquille O'Neal, whom Curry was most often compared to as a high school star out of Chicago, has stopped with his playful shots and instead is showing empathy.

"I'm not really going to mess with him this year," O'Neal said last week. "It's a tough year for him, but he's got an opportunity to come back and do it."

Shaq tried to give Curry a pep talk when the Knicks were in Phoenix in December and told him he could have great success in D'Antoni's system. But at this point it seems clear that the Knicks and Curry would prefer to part ways. The challenge, of course, is to find another team that would be willing to take a chance on a 6-11, 300-plus-pound center with conditioning and motivation issues.

"If he gets himself in shape and wants to do it," O'Neal said, "I'm sure somebody would want to pick him up."

The Knicks will try to move him this summer, though it would have been easier to accomplish had he been able to showcase himself in these final games before the end of the season. The fact that he could manage less than 12 total minutes in three games this season makes it a tougher sell, especially when the Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - are not interested in taking on a contract that goes beyond 2010. Curry has two years left for a total of $21.7 million.

Curry wanted to try to play through the pain in his left knee, Richardson said, but it had too much of an impact on his performance. It was "a lose-lose" situation, according to Richardson.

"Eddy's hurt. If he goes out there and plays bad, the fans are going to boo and they're going to talk bad about him in the papers and say he stunk up the place," Richardson said. "And I know, in his mind, he was only trying to get back because he could tell the people were saying this and that. I was telling him that's not a good reason because it's not going to get you anywhere. Only another setback."

The season has been full of those, both on and off the court. The knee won't require surgery, as his right one did last spring, but his body will require a commitment to conditioning. Not exactly a Curry staple. But if noted trainer Tim Grover allows Curry back in the ATTACK Athletics facility in Chicago, it'll be a start. "I'll be there with him most of the summer and see what he's doing, encourage him and try to push him to do better and be better," Richardson said.

Notes & quotes: Wilson Chandler had 17 points to lead the Knicks (30-47), who snapped a four-game losing streak . . . Chris Bosh had 31 points and 14 rebounds for the Raptors (30-46), who were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

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