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Knicks believe Andrea Bargnani is a key piece

Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives against the

Toronto Raptors center Andrea Bargnani drives against the Milwaukee Bucks' Ersan Ilyasova during the first half of a game in Milwaukee. (March 2, 2013) Credit: AP

Glen Grunwald says the Knicks' acquisition of Andrea Bargnani wasn't to counter the splash the Nets made in getting Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Grunwald insists it was done to improve the Knicks' chances of going deep in the playoffs.

Getting out of the first round for the first time in 13 years was important, but the Knicks' general manager says there's much more to be done before this team can compete for a title.

"We wanted to take another step forward this year and we felt Andrea was a step forward for us," Grunwald said during a conference call Thursday. "Notwithstanding what other teams do, we have to get better . . . We need to continue to move this organization forward."

The Knicks got Bargnani from Toronto for Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first-round pick and second-round choices in 2014 and 2017. Bargnani is a 7-footer who will create mismatches and spread the floor with his jump-shooting ability.

After J.R. Smith re-signed for four years and roughly $25 million, the Knicks have 10 players under contract. Grunwald said they want to add another point guard and some more big men and that Kenyon Martin "is getting our full consideration."

The Knicks have about $1.6 million left on the mini-midlevel exception after roughly $1.5 million went to re-sign Pablo Prigioni, along with minimum salaries.

Grunwald said it was important to keep most of the core from last season and continue to add to it. "We're pretty comfortable with our team and we need to add some depth to our bench," he said. "We've got some good ideas. We're working toward filling out the rest of the roster. Maybe we might want to hold open a roster spot or two to go into training camp to have a player come in like Chris Copeland did last year and earn a spot and make a name for himself. So we still have some flexibility.

"We have to remember that over the course of the season, we're not locked into what our team is in July or September or October. I'm pretty optimistic we're going to add some good players to our team in the not- so-distant future."

The Knicks will lose Copeland to Indiana but are keeping tabs on free agents Aaron Brooks, Sebastian Telfair, Dahntay Jones and Tyrus Thomas, who was amnestied Wednesday. If he clears waivers, the Knicks could look to sign him. The same goes for Metta World Peace, who was amnestied Thursday.

Getting Bargnani could turn out to be a good move, especially if he can stay healthy.

Bargnani, a career 15.2-point scorer, played in only 35 games last year because of wrist and elbow injuries. He said his elbow is fine and that he plans to put "a lot of focus" into improving his defense and rebounding.

"I'm 100 percent healthy," Bargnani said. "I'm going to play with the national team this summer and get back in shape so when I get back here, I'm going to be ready to go . . . It's all about winning here. I want to do as much as possible, and what the coach asks me, to just to win games, because I'm really starving to win."

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