Kelenna Azubuike is always accomodating when it comes to granting interviews, but at this point he's getting tired of the same question.
"Very tired," he corrected.
After watching him in the practice scrimmage today, however, I don't think you need to ask him how he and his surgically-repaired knee feels. It's visually evident that it's improved dramatically since the start of the season. He's still not impressively explosive or noticably athletic, but he doesn't stand out in a bad way, either.
"I feel closer than I've ever been," Azubuike said as he walked off the court.
What's more important is Mike D'Antoni, this time, agrees.
"He's getting closer, that's for sure," D'Antoni said. "I didn't think he'd even get this close. We'll keep evaluating him and we'll see after the all-star break how he's doing and see if there's some opportunities to get him on the floor."
Azubuike's strengths, pre-injury, were explosive athleticism, defense and a three-point touch. The athleticism isn't quite there, though he's not running with a gimp in his gait like we saw in November. He moves well within a game and doesn't get easily beat. He can still knock down the three-ball.
It's been well over a year since he's played in an NBA game, so no one expects Azubuike to step in and make a major difference. But for someone who has spent a year rehabilitating a very troublesome injury -- ruptured patella tendon -- he is finally, at least, making notable progress.
He feels if he got into a game, he can do "enough to keep up."
"I've been keeping up pretty good in practice and playing as hard as I can and everything," he said. "I'm pretty confident in the knee. I'm axious to get out there."
That', of course, is the hard part when it comes to D'Antoni's rotation. Azubuike would have to do show more than Bill Walker to get those minutes. But it would be better for Azubuike to get some garbage time minutes first, rather than just dive right into a live game, especially in a playoff push. But if he can continue to improve, Azubuike could be an extremely valuable player come April.
"Right now to break into any rhythm I think is kind of hard," D'Antoni said, "but it would be great to get him out there every once in a while."
He may not have a choice. If the Knicks do pull off the Carmelo Anthony trade and give up a few players in the rotation, perhaps even rookie Landry Fields, Azubuike, a shooting guard, may suddenly become an important piece of the rotation. Another possibility is that Azubuike, who has an expiring contract with 80 percent of his salary covered by insurance as a result of missing over 41 games with the injury, is included in a trade.
"You never know, it's tough to think about that and try to figure out what's going to happen," he said. "You never know. I'm just going to continue doing what I'm doing and get myself as ready as I can."
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* - Both Amar'e Stoudemire (big toe) and Danilo Gallinari (knee) practiced today and will play tomorrow night against the Hawks. Stoudemire said the toe is "a little sore" but left no doubt he'd play in a much anticipated rematch with Al Horford and the Hawks.
* - Speaking of Fight Night at the Garden, "Sugar" Shane Mosley was at practice today along with a film crew from Showtime. Mosley, the former welterweight champion who will fight Manny Pacquio in Las Vegas on May 7, sat with Donnie Walsh, a boxing fan, during practice and then spent time chatting with Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, among other players. Mosley said he has always been a basketball fan and admitted that his Pomona, Calif. roots make him a Lakers fan. The Knicks have had boxers visit practice before. A few years ago, Roy Jones Jr. showed up and actually took part in some drills with the team when Isiah Thomas was coach.
* - John Starks is hosting his annual Celebrity Bowling Tournament at Lucky Strike Lanes in Manhattan. The proceeds go to benefit his foundation, which provides college scholarships to disadvantaged students. This is always a great event loaded with many sports celebrities, both current and retired. The event is sold out, but you can still donate to help Starks' cause by visiting his website, www.johnstarks.org.