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Hughes as interested in trade deadline as Knicks are

Knicks guard Larry Hughes (0) controls the basket

Knicks guard Larry Hughes (0) controls the basket ball against Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

As the Knicks look for potential improvements to the roster before the Feb. 18 trade deadline, one of their unused veterans, Larry Hughes, also considers it an important date.

"I'm looking at it," said Hughes, who added that he has been in contact with his agent, Jeff Wechsler, about his situation with the Knicks and what possible options he could have via trade or, as a last resort, a buyout.

"We're talking," he said. "We'll try to figure this thing out, hopefully sooner than later, and move forward."

After coach Mike D'Antoni replaced Hughes with Nate Robinson on Jan. 1, Hughes played in only two games in January - a total of 15 minutes of playing time - and has been a DNP-Coach's Decision for five straight games.

There are very few trade options for Hughes, who is the Knicks' highest-paid player at $13.6 million. His expiring contract would have some value if the Knicks were willing to take a bigger contract back. But with a premium on securing as much salary-cap space as possible for this summer, that's not about to happen. An expiring-for-expiring deal would work, but there first has to be a team that has a need (and want) for Hughes.

The Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - have had their eyes on Rockets guard Tracy McGrady ($23 million) since November, and Hughes' contract would have to be part of any package to acquire the exiled former all-star.

But the Rockets hope to get better offers and the Knicks don't appear to want to give up a young asset such as Jordan Hill or Toney Douglas as sweeteners in a deal for a player who is trying to make a comeback from microfracture surgery and is headed to free agency this summer.

Of course, that could change if the Knicks, after the proper amount of research, are satisfied that McGrady, who has been working out in Chicago with trainer Tim Grover since the Rockets put him on an extended leave of absence, can prove he is physically able to step in immediately and play a major role in D'Antoni's rotation. The Knicks have a serious need for guard help and McGrady, if healthy, certainly could provide that.

The Knicks, who have fallen back to 11 games under .500 at 18-29 and entered yesterday's action six games out of a playoff spot, just might be desperate enough to reconsider.

Another scenario for Hughes could be similar to what the team did with Stephon Marbury last season, when a buyout was negotiated in time for him to sign with a playoff team.

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