It was eight days ago when Mike D'Antoni hinted that struggling Larry Hughes might be losing his grip on a spot in the Knicks' rotation, suggesting the veteran guard needed to "step it up." Four days later, when Nate Robinson was back on the court against the Hawks and Hughes was left on the bench, D'Antoni was asked if Hughes understood the move.
"What is there to understand? That's the way life is," D'Antoni said Saturday. "I think everybody understands we're trying to win."
Hughes, who ripped D'Antoni after he sat for a second straight game during Sunday's 43-point win over the Pacers, now joins Robinson and Eddy Curry (who was out with a stomach flu Sunday) on the disgruntled players list.
While Robinson supporters can question D'Antoni's loyalty to Chris Duhon when the starting point guard struggled through the first month of the season, Hughes and Curry may wonder why D'Antoni continues to give precious minutes to reclamation project Jonathan Bender.
The Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - have until Wednesday to decide whether to keep Bender and Landry, who are on non-guaranteed contracts. If neither is waived by then, their deals will become guaranteed for the rest of the season Friday. That's a commitment of $801,361 for Bender and $457,588 for Landry.
Sunday's blowout allowed D'Antoni to give Bender extended minutes (a season-high 24:26), though it didn't provide much promise. Bender (3-for-10, seven rebounds) clearly is working his way back to form after a four-year absence from the NBA, but D'Antoni believes the highly skilled 7-footer could be a big part of a playoff push later in the season.
"This is not only for right now, this is for the future," D'Antoni said recently about keeping Bender in the rotation. "He's the type of player that if we can get him to a certain level, he'd be very, very valuable, and we need to stick with him."
Notes & quotes: Though D'Antoni last week said he is "intrigued" by Tracy McGrady, who has been put on the trade block by the Houston Rockets, Knicks president Donnie Walsh on Sunday wouldn't address the possibility of a deal. "I'm not talking about players or trades," Walsh said. "I'm not talking about it." . . . David Lee is not among the top vote-getters for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and the Knicks have made a subtle attempt to promote Lee on their Web site and have encouraged fans to vote for him. Lee is listed as a forward on the ballot, though he has played center all season. Lee should get serious consideration as an All-Star reserve, which will be announced Jan. 28. The starters will be announced Jan. 21.