SALT LAKE CITY - The number that mattered most for the Knicks this season did not involve the record or the team's scoring average or even the amount of games out of a playoff berth.
The number is the target date for when the shovel goes in the ground on this massive rebuild of a crumbled franchise: July 1, 2010.
It is a reality that stamped an expiration date on just about every player on the current Knicks roster, with the exception of 2008 lottery pick Danilo Gallinari and, possibly, second year forward Wilson Chandler.
"To be honest, sometimes guys mention it," Al Harrington said before last night's 112-104 loss to the Jazz at the Energy Solutions Center. "But at the end of the day, I think everybody is just trying to play as good as they can to be ready for whatever situation it is."
The biggest issue is their good isn't good enough on most nights. Even in making a spirited comeback from a 24-point second-half deficit to take a brief 93-92 lead with 7:05 left in the game, the Knicks were unable to finish the job. Of course this is one of the toughest places for any opponent to finish the job, as the Jazz are 32-6 at home this season.
Harrington led the Knicks (29-45) with 24 points and was ejected from the game after being hit with consecutive technical fouls with 22.3 seconds left after arguing a call with referee Eli Roe.
Deron Williams had 24 points and 13 assists and Carlos Boozer had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz (46-27).This brief, last trip to the West will end tonight in Denver against the Nuggets. Eight games remain before talk of next year can officially begin. And next year, of course, involves 2010 and, most likely, the end of several Knick careers.
"If you are part of the winning and you're doing the right things, it'll be hard to get rid of a guy like that, you know what I'm saying?"
Harrington said before the game. "So that's where I think everybody's focus should be. If I keep doing my job and keep doing what I'm supposed to be doing to make this team better and make this a playoff team, then I should be around in 2010."
Notes & quotes: Last night's game featured two pending restricted free agent forwards in David Lee and Paul Millsap, both of whom could get some serious offer sheet interest. One could also affect the other when it comes to contract standard, as they are very comparable players. Lee had 21 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in the game and Millsap finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three steals. There is talk that the Jazz may decide to keep Millsap and consider dealing Boozer, who can opt-out of his contract this summer . . . Larry Hughes sat out the second half with a strained left ankle . . . Quentin Richardson missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle . . . Danilo Gallinari did not make the trip. He is expected to undergo surgery to correct his back issue sometime next week in New York. . . MSG Network's Mike Breen won his first Emmy award for best play-by-play announcer in New York . . . Renaldo Balkman in an internet report said on Sunday that the Knicks "already" regret trading him to the Nuggets last summer. The 2006 first round pick has played well in a reserve role for Denver, but D'Antoni said there are "no regrets" and explained that Balkman, a 6-8 swingman, did not fit in the plans with the Knicks because Chandler and Gallinari were going to get the bulk of the minutes. "And to be honest with you," D'Antoni said, "I don't think would be a difference-maker."