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Old 04-22-2007, 10:11 AM   #1
shafir
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Default Knicks after Jermaine O Neal?

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Frank Isola

CHARLOTTE - Isiah Thomas wasn't about to let the season expire last night without making one more case that injuries ultimately ruined the Knicks' playoff bid.

"I think it's pretty safe to say had we not been so decimated, things would be different tonight," Thomas said. "But that being said, we would like to have had a better finish. I feel pretty comfortable and confident in saying that, had we not been hit by the injuries the way we'd been hit, I think it's safe to say we would have squeezed out at least six-to-seven more wins and we'd be sitting in a totally different position."

Instead, the Knicks concluded the 2006-07 season with a 94-93 victory over the Bobcats that prevented them from losing 50 games while decreasing the chances that the Chicago Bulls, who own the Knicks' lottery pick, will end up with the top pick in the June draft.

The Knicks (33-49) were 29-34 and in eighth place on March10 after Steve Francis beat the Washington Wizards with a last-second three-pointer. Two days later, Garden chairman James Dolan gave Thomas a contract extension, and the Knicks then proceeded to lose 15 of their last 19 games.

They also went much of the final six weeks without Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson and David Lee. Overall, Crawford missed 23 games, Richardson 33, Lee 24 and Stephon Marbury eight.

"Everybody was gone," Thomas said. "That was a big blow."

Dolan has also pointed to injuries as the main reason for the Knicks failing to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six years. Coincidentally, neither Thomas nor Dolan blamed injuries for last season's 23-win team. Instead, they just blamed coach Larry Brown, even though Marbury missed 22 games, Richardson 27, Channing Frye 17 and Eddy Curry 10.

"You've got to have some things work for you, health being the key thing," Thomas said. "The last time the Knicks (played for) a championship, (Patrick) Ewing was hurt. If Ewing's playing...you deal with it."

Thomas has talked about winning a title in New York since the day he arrived, but his team has had just one playoff berth, in 2004, when the Knicks were swept by the Nets in four games. If healthy, the Knicks arguably could have been a playoff team, but they'd still be far from championship caliber. Last night, Thomas admitted that the Knicks have to get better.

"Oh yeah," he said. "(Heck) yeah. Until you put the ring on the finger, that's what it's all about. I do understand it takes time to get to that level."

Thomas will look to upgrade the roster during the offseason, with Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal his likely target. Unlike last summer, when the only significant move Thomas made was the free-agent signing of Jared Jeffries, the Knicks president figures to be more active this summer. Francis, Frye and Nate Robinson are prime candidates to be moved. In order to make a significant move, Thomas may have to part with Crawford and/or Lee.

Still, Thomas said he is encouraged by the development of some of the younger players, including Mardy Collins, and believes the Knicks are starting to establish the right team culture.

"I have a great understanding of where we are," he said. "Regarding injuries and everything else, I like what we have and I like the direction we're headed in. At the end of this season there will be only one winner and 29 losers. We'll be one of the 29."
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