Knicks still name to avoid

Published: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 12:49 a.m.
If the saying that you have to take a step backward to make a positive step is true, then Isiah Thomas got his first indication on how far he has to go to rebuild the New York Knicks.
Thomas, who took over as president of the Knicks on Dec. 22, upon the firing of Scott Layden, was rebuffed in his first attempt to upgrade the team. He lost out to the crosstown New Jersey Nets to sign free-agent forward Eddie Griffin, who was released last month by the Houston Rockets.
In the mind of Thomas - who meant no specific disrespect to the Nets, who, after all, have been to the Finals the past two years - losing a player to another team is like a beauty queen passing over Fabio for an average Joe.
"We've got to get our franchise back to the point where players want to come play for the New York Knicks and don't give it a second thought," Thomas told the New York Daily News last week. "There was a time when we would have gotten the phone call, 'Can we come play for you,' as opposed to us having to search and find and beat (the bushes). We've got to get ourselves back to the point as a franchise where people want to come here and play and see this and view this as a very good situation." and that's what we're working on."
It won't be easy. Few franchises have fallen faster and harder than the Knicks, who were the Eastern representatives in the 1999 championship series. Of course, that was when Jeff Van Gundy, Patrick Ewing and Latrell Sprewell were key components in Gotham.
Since then, Van Gundy quit as coach 19 games into the 2001-02 season, Ewing went to two other teams, retired, and is an assistant coach with Van Gundy in Houston, while Sprewell was traded this past offseason as part of a four-team deal that brought Keith Van Horn to Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks made the playoffs for 13 straight seasons, but haven't been close to .500 in the past two. They are seemingly hopelessly over the salary cap, with little chance to get under and have few desirable players that other teams would want in trade.
But Thomas , who was let go as Indiana Pacers coach after last season, is pledging to do whatever it takes to make the Knicks respectable again, up to and including trading forward Antonio McDyess, the cornerstone of a draft day trade two seasons ago with Denver.
McDyess, who has missed virtually all of the past two years with a serious left knee injury, is back in the lineup, but his return has been incremental. Thomas' biggest task is to make the world's most famous arena hop again.
"Most definitely, you should definitely want to come play here," Thomas told the Daily News. "We have to build it back to the point where people look at this place and they drool. We have to do a lot of things. But we'll get there."

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