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The Knicks fix: Roster a work in progress, but with more flexibility than ever

The Knicks' Danilo Gallinari, right, backs down Washington's

The Knicks' Danilo Gallinari, right, backs down Washington's Mike Miller during the Knicks' 114-103 win at Madison Square Garden. (Apr. 12, 2010) Credit: AP

It was fine to send those subliminal messages to LeBron James on Thursday, when everyone from Knicks owner James Dolan to president Donnie Walsh to coach Mike D'Antoni emphasized that playing in New York is a challenge not everyone can, or wants, to handle.

The point was made, driven home, understood and absolutely true.

And now, with LeBron the new enemy, it's time the Knicks offer a new message:

"I would hope you would support who we are, not who we are not.''

Credit that to fictional coach Norman Dale, from, of course, "Hoosiers."

The fact of the matter is that after preparing for two years to land LeBron James and failing, there can be no quick remedy. This is a headache that will pound for a while.

The team now has ridiculous length and skill, but not enough perimeter shooting, and questionable defense across the frontcourt. There is no doubt this team will have to play up-tempo and rely heavily on transition and speed. But there is great potential in some of the young talent, such as Danilo Gallinari, Anthony Randolph and very intriguing wild card Bill Walker.

Now check the finances. With Amar'e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and the three second-round picks (yet to be signed), the Knicks likely will have a payroll of about $54.2 million, which will leave them about $3.8 million shy of the $58.044-million salary cap.

It also leaves them with flexibility. With James off the board, the next step was to collect some assets, develop them and wait to strike. That's what the David Lee sign-and-trade was all about. The Knicks needed bodies and assets. They got one in Randolph, extremely popular among GMs around the league for his potential. Kelenna Azubuike is a nice role player and an expiring contract. The Knicks still have Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas, and - if it comes to it - Gallinari also is there to dangle in a trade.

The Knicks have become a fairly young team with very affordable contracts, which is something you couldn't say about this franchise for a very long time. But the reality is that they have to play with energy, grit and relentlessness. Otherwise, they're dead. Especially in the new-look Eastern Conference.

And unless Gallinari turns into something much bigger than anyone expected, the Knicks know they're still going to need a star to be the cornerstone of an eventual championship contender. Stoudemire is an All-Star, but no one is trying to suggest he's a superstar. The Knicks, however, wanted to send the message at his news conference Thursday that he was the one who dared to take the first step to be part of the rebuild. He is special mainly because of that.

But there's no question this roster isn't a finished product. It would have been only if LeBron had decided to choose New York. He didn't, so the work will take a little bit longer.

Instant gratification can be exhilarating, and they're pounding shots of it right now in South Beach. But there also is something to be said about the climb. Perhaps you'll have to wait a little longer and see if Carmelo Anthony has the guts to pass on that three-year, $65-million extension and leave Denver for the big opportunity and, yes, the big challenge that awaits here.

He has to know he'll make that money here. His brand is lagging behind fellow Class of '03 draftees James and Dwyane Wade. In fact, Anthony's jersey isn't even top 10 in sales. As of the last count, released in January, he ranked 11th.

He can wait it out until next summer, when the Knicks will have cap space (and can maneuver easily to create enough for a max offer), or he can try to motivate the Nuggets into a trade, which would allow the Knicks to sign him to a "Bird rights" extension. It might not happen until the trade deadline, if at all. The Nuggets certainly don't want to trade their superstar.

Then there are Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who have decisions to make. Does Paul want to hang around to see if the Hornets will build a legit team around him in a Western Conference in which 50 wins was just enough to get a playoff berth? Does Williams want to stay in Utah now that Carlos Boozer is gone?

Last but not least is Tony Parker. Eventually, the Spurs have to figure out what they want to do with him. If George Hill is Gregg Popovich's guy now and if the Spurs aren't willing to financially commit to Parker the way they did to Manu Ginobili, he absolutely wants out. Oh, and let's not forget about Ricky Rubio in Spain. He is a year away from coming to the NBA. Eventually, the Timberwolves will have to deal with that if he is completely against playing in Minnesota.

What we have here are options, all of which are available to the Knicks because of one critical element: flexibility.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision.

Cablevision owns Newsday.

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