Isiah: I wouldn't trade these Knicks
By FRANK ISOLA
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
New Knicks Mardy Collins (l.) and Renaldo Balkman
The roster that Larry Brown wanted to detonate is the same one Isiah Thomas is ready to go war with.
With the free-agent recruiting period approaching tomorrow, Thomas cautioned Knick fans not to expect Kevin Garnett or Jermaine O'Neal to come to the rescue this summer
. ("I'm not here waiting for Santa Claus to come save us," Thomas said.) Instead, Saint Knick believes that as the team's new coach, he can take the same players who went 23-59 last season under Brown and win with them.
"I do like our players and my job is to get their confidence back and I think they can play at a higher level than what a lot of them performed at last year," Thomas said yesterday.
"I'm very comfortable with our roster. I'm comfortable with the things that we have. I'll continue to look to get better. But if we had to go into the season right now with what we have and the way we look, I'm comfortable with that."
Thomas, the Knicks' president/coach, addressed the team's future after introducing first-round picks Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins. Neither rookie is expected to make an immediate impact although Thomas is convinced that Balkman, a 6-8 swingman, and Collins, a 6-6 point guard, satisfy two important problem areas.
The Knicks have other needs, preferably a rebounding power forward, but salary-cap restrictions limit Thomas' options. Atlanta's Al Harrington is a free agent and a player Thomas coached with the Indiana Pacers. But to acquire Harrington, the Knicks would have to work out a sign-and-trade.
Denver's Kenyon Martin is available in a trade, but the Knicks have legitimate concerns over Martin's attitude and his surgically repaired knee
. The Knicks like Washington small forward Jared Jeffries, but the Wizards can match any offer.
Also, Thomas is content with Stephon Marbury, Nate Robinson, Jamal Crawford and Steve Francis, and said yesterday that he won't pursue free-agent guards Speedy Claxton and Mike James.
"If there's a fit for our team, we'll try to make our team better," Thomas said. "If not, what we have is good enough.
"We don't necessarily need as much as we needed two years ago when you had to go out and be aggressive and you had to make a lot of trades and you had to do a lot of things. Now you're enjoying some of the fruits of your labor."
Thomas is responsible for acquiring every player on the team, which is why Garden chairman James Dolan named him as Brown's successor in the first place and gave him a win-or-else ultimatum this week. Dolan has had an open checkbook with his general managers, so it's unlikely - although plausible - that Dolan told Thomas he couldn't add payroll this summer. On the other hand, Thomas may indeed feel confident in his team and want to show that the Knicks underachieved with Brown.
Thomas has always dreamed big when it comes to upgrading talent. He has pursued Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and Garnett and may have his sights set on the Cavs' LeBron James, who could sign an extension with Cleveland this summer. Balkman and Collins, it should be noted, are represented by Leon Rose, who happens to be James' agent. At least it makes for a good conspiracy theory.
"I was told early on (as a child) that we didn't have any money and there was no Santa Claus," Thomas said. "I'm not looking for this great player to come save the day for us."
TAKE YOUR PICK: The Phoenix Suns informed season ticket holders that they traded out of the first round once Memphis forward Rodney Carney was selected with the 16th pick. The Knicks had said on Wednesday that they took Balkman at 20 because Phoenix was ready to select him at 21.... Thomas announced that assistant GM Brendan Suhr will serve as an assistant coach.
Originally published on June 30, 2006