TORONTO - Aside from the clearance of salary-cap space, if there was anything accomplished for the Knicks this season, which ended last night against the Raptors, it was that Danilo Gallinari played the entire 82-game schedule with unexpected durability.
Keep in mind the 21-year-old missed 54 games as a rookie in 2008-09 because of a back issue that eventually required season-ending surgery just over a year ago. Gallinari even questioned his own ability to get through a full season without any issues with the back - or anything else.
"It was important to me because last year I didn't know if I could play 82 games," Gallinari said. "After the surgery I wasn't sure if I was ready to play all 82 and I did it. There were up and downs this season but with my body I'm happy because I played 82 games."
Gallinari, the sixth overall pick in 2008, went into last night's game averaging 14.9 points per game, which is fifth among his draft class. In the 13 games before last night, Gallinari averaged 20.7 points per game. He goes into the offseason as the most important on-court asset the franchise has to impress free-agent candidates.
Another asset is Mike D'Antoni, the coach whose offensive system is popular among star players but whose defensive focus is often criticized. D'Antoni even acknowledged the need this summer "to shore up a lot of the defensive stuff and try to get better at it," but stopped short of saying he needs to change how he coaches. He made it clear his goal is to have the right players on the roster so he can finally get back to his vaunted "Seven Seconds or Less" system that averaged 58 wins a season in Phoenix.
"I would like to get back to running and getting up and down the floor, pushing the ball," D'Antoni said. "All the stuff we got away from . . . But you've got to see what kind of personnel you have."
That's the caveat, of course. There are no guarantees that LeBron James or any of the top-shelf free agents will decide to come to New York. But no matter whom the Knicks sign, for D'Antoni, the built-in rebuilding excuse from the last two seasons is gone. Told the honeymoon is officially over, D'Antoni, who has faced some media criticism this season, laughed.
"This is the honeymoon?" he said. "Then I shouldn't have got married."
He added, "I'm not happy that we're losing, and I know next year we need to win."