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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Rieber's analysis: Forget the record; Walsh already has succeeded

From left to right, New York Knicks' Toney

From left to right, New York Knicks' Toney Douglas, Al Harrington and Tracy McGrady look on during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets, Saturday, March 6, 2010, in New York. The Knicks lost 113-93. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Losing to the Nets by 20 Saturday night at the Garden was such a low point for the Knicks that Mike D'Antoni openly wished for the end of the season, although he was right back at it Sunday with a longer-than-usual practice.

The Knicks have 20 more games, starting Monday night against Joe Johnson and the Hawks at the Garden. D'Antoni said the practice was not a punishment - "I don't believe in that," he said - but a chance for the Knicks to get their house in order.

D'Antoni said the team was "dysfunctional" Saturday night, that the new players didn't know where to be on the floor. So Sunday was spent working on spacing and assignments and things that usually are taken care of in training camp.

It's understandable for the fans to be angry after Saturday's loss to a team that entered the game 6-55, especially after the Knicks built a 16-point lead in the first quarter. D'Antoni was angry, too.

But believe it or not, the Knicks' house actually is already in order. As painful as it can be to watch at times, the Knicks are exactly where they need to be before the free-agent frenzy begins July 1.

Think of Donnie Walsh's two-year rebuilding plan this way: The Knicks were living in a dilapidated house. The strategy before Walsh took over as team president was to put a little paint here, a little spackle there, and maybe a picture over that hole in the wall in the hopes that no one notices.

But Walsh's plan was to gut the house to the studs. He has accomplished that with his wheeling and dealing. But the rebuilding can't start until the free-agency period begins.

The problem for the Knicks' passionate fans is that they have to live in this empty shell of a house. So you get games like Saturday's 113-93 loss to the Nets, a defeat that David Lee called "very disappointing."

Lee's disappointment is palpable, and who can blame him? He has lived through the paint-and-spackle period and now lives in the gutted house, with no guarantee he'll be around for the glorious rebuilding.

Lee talked Sunday about working hard in the final 20 games. He'll do that. But there's no reason to think the Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - will play more together, or more intelligently.

So what are the final 20 games about? As D'Antoni said in his moment of candor Saturday, it's about getting "the year over with."

Sure, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler can benefit from finishing strong, and D'Antoni can take the time to look at Sergio Rodriguez and Toney Douglas. The coach said Sunday that he plans to make a change Monday night at point guard. He didn't want to be specific, but he likely will scrap the Tracy McGrady-at-point experiment and go with Rodriguez to start and Douglas in relief.

McGrady might not even play Monday night. He said his body is tired after playing in back-to-back games. "It finally caught up to me," he said.

Will he suit up? "Hopefully," he said, but a night off to rest seems more likely.

But it doesn't really matter. McGrady's expiring contract is exactly what the Knicks needed to get way under the cap. The trade for McGrady has accomplished what Walsh needed.

Usually, home rebuilding projects start in the spring. For the Knicks, it starts July 1. For now, it's hard to look around and see only beams where walls and ceilings should be. If the Knicks' house still looks like that on opening night in November, we'll know that Donnie the Decorator wasn't as successful as Walsh the Wrecker.


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