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Road has been bumpy, but D'Antoni still optimistic

CHICAGO - It could have been a lot easier for Mike D'Antoni this season. He could have decided to go with Jerry Reinsdorf, become the Bulls' coach and avoided the massive renovation that awaited with the Knicks.

He'd have the No. 1 overall pick, Derrick Rose, who has become the leading Rookie of the Year candidate, and a team in the thick of a playoff race. It would have felt even better with his former team, the Suns, fading out of playoff contention in the West without him.

Instead, he has a lottery pick in Danilo Gallinari who will have back surgery Tuesdayin Manhattan. He also has a roster of expiring contracts and confounding, incongruent talents who will play out the final five games of another lost season.

D'Antoni had gotten used to eclipsing the 50-win plateau with the Suns. This season, the Knicks (30-47) are closing in on 50 losses entering tonight's game against the Bulls.

"I knew the road would be bumpy early, but it's bumpy everywhere," D'Antoni said yesterday. And he echoed a point he made last week, when he said this rebuilding phase is part of the plan Donnie Walsh laid out for him when they met at his Scottsdale home last May. "I signed on for that reconstruction," D'Antoni said. "If I didn't expect it, I shouldn't have signed on."

The money - a four-year, $24-million deal that Reinsdorf never had the chance to match, or even better - certainly helps one get through the tough times. And D'Antoni also remains optimistic that Walsh's plan, which is based on clearing enough salary-cap space to acquire a superstar-level talent in the near future, will be successful.

"I just see the possibility of New York being enormous, that's all," D'Antoni said. "I just think that everything's in place to really have a great situation and we just want to make sure we don't make any missteps. Sometimes the short term is a little bit of pain, but I'm still very sure we're going to get it done. And I definitely think I made the right choice."

Notes "es: Courtney Sims, who is on his second 10-day contract with the Knicks, was named the MVP of the D-League yesterday. Sims averaged 22.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in 32 games for Iowa. He has yet to play for the Knicks . . . The team's other 10-day contract player out of the D-League, guard Joe Crawford, was signed Mondayfor the remainder of the season.

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