Knicks president Donnie Walsh watching a preseason game against the...

Knicks president Donnie Walsh watching a preseason game against the 76ers' at Madison Square Garden. (Oct. 14, 2008) Credit: Photo by Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ORLANDO - Though a few names already have been removed from the potential list of free agents this summer, the biggest one, LeBron James, remains there. Perhaps more encouraging than anything for the Knicks are indications that the salary cap for next season may be higher than the NBA originally projected.

The Knicks have done most of their planning for this summer using a median number - $53.5 million - taken from projections suggested by the NBA last summer that the 2010-11 cap could range from $55 million to as low as $50 million. But word around the NBA as the season approaches its final week is that business has gone better than expected for most of the league and the cap will be closer to the higher end. first reported the story and cited team executives suggesting the cap could exceed $54 million.

"I don't think anybody knows," Donnie Walsh said Thursday from New York. "I like hearing it rather than the cap is going to go down $5 million."

The extra space certainly would help Walsh, who will have more than $30 million in cap space to spend, in his plan to try to attract two superstar-level players (such as James and Dwyane Wade) with max contracts. More likely is that Walsh will try to sign one superstar with the max and then surround that player with high-end talent via free agency and trades.

Kobe Bryant, who signed a three-year, $89-million contract extension with the Lakers last week, and Manu Ginobili, who is close to signing a three-year, $39-million extension with the Spurs, are off the market. But James, though there has been speculation that he might opt to stay in Cleveland on a short-term deal and revisit free agency at a later date, still is an option. As are Wade, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh.

The Knicks are excited about the potential of some of their homegrown talent, especially second-year forward Danilo Gallinari. But even with Gallinari gaining widespread respect from stars around the league and other young talents such as Wilson Chandler and rookie Toney Douglas on the roster, Walsh believes that won't be enough to, say, make an MVP leave his current championship-caliber team.

"You're going to have to go out and do more in order to make this a team that's an elite team," Walsh said recently. "But you'd get a hell of a start if you get a great player."

Notes & quotes: Surprising center Earl Barron is averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds in three games with the Knicks. The 28-year-old journeyman, who was signed to a 10-day contract out of the D-League last Friday, is expected on Monday to be signed through the remainder of the season, which ends Wednesday in Toronto . . . Tracy McGrady, who still is dealing with soreness and swelling in his surgically repaired left knee, would love to sign with the Magic this summer, but he says he isn't putting anything extra into Friday night's game here. "What matters to me is my health. I don't care how I play when I'm in Orlando," McGrady said. "It's not real significance to that. It's another game."

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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