GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Mike D'Antoni must have felt like a contestant on a game show after Friday's practice, given the way reporters were peppering him with questions about possible starting lineups.
The Knicks' coach said he could tinker with different combinations right up to the season opener Oct. 27 in Toronto. One player doesn't seem likely to be in the mix, however; D'Antoni said he doesn't expect to have shooting guard Kelenna Azubuike available.
Said D'Antoni, "I'm not counting on him before Christmas."
Azubuike, who had patella tendon knee surgery last November, came to the Knicks from Golden State as part of the David Lee trade. He said early in training camp that he hoped to be ready for the season opener.
That certainly doesn't seem likely; Azubuike started running two weeks ago and has yet to practice with the team. He spent Friday's practice on an adjacent court running agility drills around orange cones.
Azubuike - who said he isn't worried about breaking into the Knicks' lineup once he gets healthy - said he is happy with his progress and isn't ready to rule out being back by the start of the season.
"It can still happen," he said. "Never say never. I want to play opening night. That's what I'm working for. I feel great right now. It's just a matter of getting the endurance right."
Azubuike averaged 14.4 points and shot 44.8 percent from three-point range in 2008-09, the last full season he played. Using a traditional shooting guard such as Azubuike in his lineup likely would mean that D'Antoni would move Wilson Chandler to power forward and Amar'e Stoudemire to center. Given that the Knicks have not settled on a starting center they would like to play alongside Stoudemire, Azubuike's availability would give them some flexibility.
Notes & quotes: Stoudemire likely will sit out Saturday night's game against the Celtics and D'Antoni will go with Timofey Mozgov or Ronny Turiaf at center . . . Roger Mason could start Saturday at shooting guard, with Chandler moving to power forward. D'Antoni said he might start rookies Landry Fields or Andy Rautins in the second half.