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McGrady deal becomes a little less expensive

Donnie Walsh believed he payed a high price for salary cap space when he pulled the trigger on the three-team, six-player deal that brought Tracy McGrady's expiring contract to New York at last season's trade deadline.

Walsh was able to dump Jared Jeffries' $6.8 million salary for 2010-11, plus another $2.6 million with Jordan Hill, to allow the Knicks the potential for signing two max contracts in the Summer of 2010.

While dismissing Hill, the somewhat disappointing 2009 first round choice, was difficult enough for Walsh, he hardest part was giving up what could have been two future first round picks. In the deal, Walsh agreed to send Houston the 2012 first round pick (lottery protected up to No. 5) and also gave the Rockets the right to exchange places with the Knicks in the 2011 draft (lottery protected at No. 1).

On Friday night, the Memphis Grizzlies clinched the final playoff berth in the West, which sent the Rockets into the lottery. With the best record among lottery teams, Houston (41-38) will have the worst chance to win it, but the worst they will pick is No. 14 overall. Since the Knicks are playoff bound, they will automatically be slotted with the No. 16 or 17 pick, depending on where they finish in the standings.

There was a misconception that the Knicks gave up two first round picks in the McGrady deal, but in reality they always maintained a pick in 2011, the question was whether or not it would be swapped by Houston. With three games left in the season, the Knicks have the same exact record as the Rockets, which was the least they could this season to avoid giving up better draft position. It only would have been a disaster if the Knicks found themselves finishing between sixth and 10th.

It would have also been tough if Hill developed into a major contributor to the Rockets' success. Hill, in his second season, is at least in Rick Adelman's rotation. But in 70 games this season, Hill (5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds in 15.7 minutes per game) hasn't yet emerged as the type of talent one would expect in a top 10 draft pick.

This doesn't make the trade a success, mainly because the motivation was to open up the room for two max contracts, with an eye on luring LeBron James plus another star. But then again, did it actually work out? The Knicks signed Amar'e Stoudemire and used the leftover cap space to bring in Raymond Felton on a short-term contract, keep David Lee's Bird Rights to work a sign-and-trade that included an asset in Anthony Randolph and also sign Timofey Mozgov as a free agent.

Felton, Randolph and Mozgov wound up key pieces in the Carmelo Anthony trade, which brought in that second star the Knicks were seeking, plus another high-end veteran on a short-term deal in Chauncey Billups. The Knicks also maintained some salary cap room in 2012 to make more moves with the roster, though we won't know exactly how much until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

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* -- While it seems everywhere the Miami Heat go, they hear boos, the Knicks' Big Three is marveling at how much support they get away from Madison Square Garden. The fact that more than half of the crowd in Newark is on their side is nothing new; that's been going on since the Nets entered the league (and is likely to continue into Brooklyn...see: Islanders-Rangers at Nassau Coliseum).

But what about in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington and, of course, Miami? The Knicks heard loud cheers in each of those arenas this season. Stoudemire even heard MVP chants at the Verizon Center in Washington when the Knicks made their only visit on Dec. 10.

Most teams play 41 home games in an 82 game season. The Knicks this season played what felt like 50 if you count the nine games they played at New Jersey (2), Philadelphia (2), Atlanta (2), Miami (2) and Washington (1).

* - With this in mind, some people believe the Heat may be the best first-round opponent for the Knicks. Not only do you have the star-matchup that would have ABC/ESPN and TNT salivating, you'd also have a team without a true inside presence and a relatively shallow bench. Add in the fact that the AmericanAirlines Arena is sure to be loaded with displaced New Yorkers cheering for the Knicks (in the Feb. 27 win there, a raucous "De-Fense!" chant was heard while the Heat had the ball) and you'd think it would be the perfect environment.

Personally, I disagree. I think this team would do better with a more hostile crowd, which is what you'd be sure to find in Boston. Plus, have you seen the Celtics lately?

* - Carmelo says he doesn't have a preference for a first round opponent, despite the fun that would come out of a mano-a-mano battle with LeBron. But whether it was rhetoric or not, Carmelo said exactly the right thing -- while making reference to his days in Denver -- when discussing the potential of a Knicks-Heat series: "Yeah, I'd be excited about that, but it's deeper than that," he said. "I've been there and trying to win a playoff series by myself and I'm done with that."

* - Two players off the bench who are making a strong, strong case to be in the playoff rotation are Bill Walker, who has been very aggressive lately, and Anthony Carter, who just seems to consistently make a positive impact on the team with his contagious competitive nature and veteran savvy. Derrick Brown definitely has lively legs and can run the floor and perhaps can see some spot duty when Carmelo goes to the bench for a brief rest.

* - Though the boot on Stoudemire's left foot was ominous, it was merely for extra protection and support and not really an indication that it's a serious issue. Plus, it matched his natty suit quite well. It's doubtful that Stoudemire will play Sunday against the Pacers in a game that means nothing for either team. The Pacers are locked in at the 8th spot; the Knicks are trying to hold the 6th seed (they can't catch the Atlanta Hawks for 5th even if Atlanta loses out and the Knicks win out because Hawks own tiebreaker with better conference record). It's reasonable to believe Stoudemire could go in Tuesday's home finale against the Bulls and perhaps sit out the season finale in Boston the next night.

* - Mark your calendars, Fixers. The first-ever Fixer Mixer is going down on Tuesday, before the Knicks-Bulls game, at one of the best bars in the city, Stout, on 33rd Street near the Garden. We'll be there from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. (no cover charge) and giving out Knicks Fix T-shirts to the first 250 fans who show up. You can also enter to win a $250 gift card to purchase Knicks gear. Come out and meet your fellow Fixers and let's do a LIVE CHAT in person this time!

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