It couldn't end soon enough for the Knicks, this season that was mainly for demolition purposes and bridged the end of one era to the beginning of another. It was fitting that before last night's season finale, a 102-73 victory over the Nets at the Garden, that the architect of the previous failed era, Isiah Thomas, was somewhere else, wearing another logo and far, far away from the Knicks.
And there was Donnie Walsh, sitting in his usual pregame seat a few rows up from the court, talking about the job at hand now that he's almost done cleaning up the mess Thomas left behind.
"Listen, I've got a lot of work to do and I've said that from Day One," Walsh said. "This is a tough job because there is a lot to do."
Along with beginning the actual rebuilding phase by exploring what blockbuster trades the Knicks may be able to get involved in this summer - Chris Bosh's future with the Raptors is one area of attention - Walsh also will have to deal with two very talented, and not to mention popular, restricted free agents in David Lee and Nate Robinson.
One, if not both, could have played his final game as a Knick last night.
"It's a realistic thought to have," Lee said before the game. "I think I'll be back here next year, I think I'll be a Knick. I want to be here."
Robinson, whose bigger-than-life KryptoNate persona leaps across a billboard just outside the Garden, also said he hopes to remain in orange-and-blue (and, occasionally, green).
"This is what I know, this is all I know, the Knicks," Robinson said last week. "Hopefully I'll continue to be a Knick and won't have to move my family elsewhere."
Lee had 12 rebounds last night and both he and Robinson finished with a dozen points. Wilson Chandler led the Knicks with 16. The Knicks led 52-40 at the half in this blowout win over a Nets team that was missing Devin Harris and Vince Carter. The Nets were led by Chris Douglas-Roberts with 18 points.
Both Lee and Robinson have had breakout seasons statistically that will only boost their market value. Robinson, who went into last night's game averaging 17.3 points per game, will be a finalist for the Sixth Man award this season. Lee went in leading the league with 63 double-doubles and 16 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
With a major emphasis on having enough salary cap space in 2010 to make a run at one of the potential superstar free agents such as LeBron James, it might be impossible to lock up both Robinson and Lee to long-term deals. Before the season, Lee, who made $1.7 million this season, was looking for between $8 million to $10 million per year.
There was a great deal of interest in Lee before the trade deadline - the Trail Blazers are one team that has been regularly mentioned - and he could get an offer sheet from one or two of the few teams that have cap space (Portland, Detroit and Memphis). That will put pressure on the Knicks to match or lose him for nothing.
"I know there are other teams in the league that are going to possibly trade for me or get me in free agency and the Knicks will have a decision to make," Lee said. "We'll see what happens."
Lee is considered a valuable asset for a team looking to keep quality young players that would fit well around a star player. There is some anxiousness about what another team might do, but, Mike D'Antoni said, "at the end of the day, we hold the cards."
Regardless, D'Antoni has high expectations for this offseason.
"When we get into August," he said, "we will have a better team."
Notes & quotes: D'Antoni maintains a wait-and-see posture regarding Eddy Curry's readiness for training camp next October, if he should remain a Knick through the offseason. "He sounds great and he sounds like he will, but at the end of the day the proof is in the pudding," D'Antoni said. . . . Robinson was presented with a Rangers jersey with the No. 4 and his name on the back by the Rangers' equipment staff. He and Chandler are planning to attend Game 3 of their first-round series with the Capitals at the Garden.