Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James watches his team play against the...

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James watches his team play against the Chicago Bulls during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, April 8, 2010. With the league's best record locked up and their eyes on a playoff run, the Cavaliers held James out of Thursday's game against the Bulls. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - At the culmination of the first phase of Donnie Walsh's rebuilding plan - the second phase begins in July - the Knicks' president said in his postseason address Thursday that he feels no pressure to justify two losing seasons of payroll-dumping by producing a much-needed star player in free agency.

But Mike D'Antoni, who has those 103 losses in two seasons on his permanent record, does feel the pressure of having success with whomever Walsh delivers this summer. If the Knicks don't end their six-season playoff drought next year, D'Antoni said, "You'll be asking somebody else about how to get back to the playoffs."

Still, D'Antoni actually called the nine straight losing seasons this franchise has endured "a selling point" to prospective free agents and added, "That's one of the reasons why I came here. If you do get this thing turned around, knowing how hard it is, it just makes it even that more exciting. It takes a little leap of faith."

On that platform, Walsh, D'Antoni and the Knicks will use every resource available - the cachet of New York and playing at Madison Square Garden, the many celebrities and people of influence who want to see a star here and, perhaps, even the Yankees - to recruit the best player in the game today: LeBron James.

Walsh can't publicly acknowledge James - or any other potential free agent - until July 1, and with a growing belief that James already is leaning toward staying in Cleveland, Walsh and his staff have various game plans to target other top-shelf free agents such as Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh. They also can target some secondary candidates, such as Memphis Grizzlies restricted free agent Rudy Gay, Marcus Camby, Kyle Korver, Luke Ridnour, Steve Blake and even Shaun Livingston.

Walsh was quick to remind the assembled media that cap space might be used to trade for players already under contract. One of the first calls Walsh is expected to make is to the financially challenged New Orleans Hornets to see if they would be interested in moving All-Star Chris Paul, with the promise that the Knicks also would take on one of their other large contracts to provide much-needed payroll relief.

Though that scenario likely is a long shot, Walsh is expected to be involved in this type of aggressive thinking all summer.

In the meantime, the team wants to see improvement from the few remaining players on the roster: Danilo Gallinari (stronger), Bill Walker (thinner), Wilson Chandler (healthier), Toney Douglas (bigger) and Eddy Curry (just get on a basketball court). The Knicks don't have their first-round pick this year (that goes to the Utah Jazz), but they have two second-round picks, and Walsh said he will consider acquiring a late first-rounder if they see a player they really want.

The Dolan family owns

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


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