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Knicks may have to replace Duhon at PG

CHICAGO - Chris Duhon left here with something to prove, with an opportunity to invigorate a career that had locked him into backup status. As the season continues to wind down after last night's game here against the Bulls, Duhon has the Knicks thinking they need to list point guard among their many holes to fill this offseason.

His game dramatically fell off after a tremendous first half, during which he was among the league leaders in minutes per game and assists. But after the Nov. 21 trades, the Knicks sent away one guard, Jamal Crawford, and acquired one in Cuttino Mobley who was forced to retire. With Stephon Marbury in exile, that left Duhon to carry a load he admits was too much to handle.

"I really wasn't prepared for all the minutes I was going to play," he said.

And that apparently showed last night as he scored 2 points going 1-for-4 over 28 minutes in the Knicks' 110-103 loss to the Bulls.

Wilson Chandler led the Knicks (30-48) with 28 points. Al Harrington scored 23 and David Lee had 17 point and 13 rebounds.

Kirk Hinrich had 25 points for the Bulls (38-40).

What the Knicks need to assess is if Duhon can handle starter's minutes over an 82-game season or is he what he was with the Bulls: a capable backup? The Knicks will have a lottery pick and, if they are in the right position, would take a long look at Ricky Rubio, if the 18-year-old Spaniard opts for the draft this year. And with Mavericks guard Jason Kidd heading into free agency this summer and very interested in coming back to the New York area, the Knicks will consider that option, as well.

Kidd, 36, is on the decline, but he is still one of the NBA's most prolific passers. On Sunday, he had 20 assists in the blowout win over the Suns and he ranks fifth in the NBA with 8.6 assists per game. Though his defense is weak and his outside shooting is a problem, Kidd possesses the veteran leadership the Knicks lack. Plus, he could attract other top players who would want to play with him.

The bottom line would be if Kidd would come to the Knicks for the only contract they could offer him: the midlevel exception for a short term.

Coincidentally, that's what the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, gave Duhon last summer. He took two years for $11.5 million with the hopes that he would earn an extension. Halfway through this season, Duhon looked as if the job should be his beyond 2010, but then his body and his game broke down simultaneously. There are some concerns that Duhon's penchant for the night life, a reputation that follows him, has also played a factor in his second-half breakdown.

Coming into the season, Duhon said he knew the starting job was his, but he expected there would be minutes to share with Crawford, Marbury and Nate Robinson. By December, however, it was just himself and Robinson. And then his body started to break down as the responsibilities intensified. He played through the pain of a sprained ankle and an ailing back, mainly because the Knicks, with such a shallow backcourt, couldn't afford him taking time off.

"It's something new for me," Duhon said, "something that I'll definitely be prepared for next year."

The ankle is fine now, but Duhon said the back is still an issue, which is a twofold concern. Duhon said he had surgery to repair the back two years ago, when he was with the Bulls. It was fine until this season, when stiffness began to set in as the minutes piled up.

It happened to be the same surgery - a laminotomy, which shaves the bony plate surrounding a nerve root - that rookie Danilo Gallinari had yesterday in New York.

Notes & quotes: Eddy Curry said he isn't sure why his left knee continues to trouble him (and kept him off the court for most of this season), but has been advised that surgery will not be required. Though it has been suggested as an option, it is unlikely Curry will play for the Knicks' summer league team in July. Does he think he'll even be a Knick by the time training camp opens in October? "Right now, I do, but we'll see what happens," he said. "I want to be here, but we'll see what happens." . . . Mike D'Antoni says he would go with Derrick Rose for Rookie of the Year, with Russell Westbrook as a runner-up. "Rose has his team in the playoffs," D'Antoni said, "and that's got to mean something."

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