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LeBron James this summer, Carmelo Anthony next summer?
The Knicks actually are in position to work the 2010-2011 superstar exacta if things fall a certain way.
Anthony, who headlines the 2011 free-agent class, visits the Garden tonight with the powerhouse Nuggets, looking to duplicate the 50 points he hung on the Knicks in Denver on Nov. 28 in a 128-125 win.
Knicks president Donnie Walsh has been on a campaign to alert the team's fans that all the cap room does not have to be filled this July, when the Knicks have space to sign two maximum free agents.
If they sign one maximum guy such as James or Joe Johnson and re-sign David Lee, they'll probably be in position to have enough room for another maximum player in 2011, with Eddy Curry's $12M coming off the books after next season.
"We got this thing [cap] down under, and now have to manage our cap to the best of our ability, taking into consideration what could be available to us as we go on [each summer]," Walsh told The Post yesterday.
Walsh admits he's not going to waste money on a free agent he's not crazy about just to fill up their 2010 cap space.
Walsh promised. "Without in any way encouraging you to write about the names of the 2011 free-agent, class, yes. Of course. We're looking at it over a five-year period."
Anthony has had a breakthrough season, averaging 28.8 points and 6.7 rebounds, looking every bit as good as anyone not nicknamed LeBron James.
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni coached both James and Anthony as an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski on the 2008 gold-medal-winning U.S Olympic Team. D'Antoni probably will coach them again this summer, when Team USA trains in New York.
"I don't want to say he didn't do it before, but with the Olympic experience and being around him, he's turning into a winner," D'Antoni said of Anthony.
"He knows what it takes. He and [Chauncey] Billups are an unbelievable duo and have a shot to win a title. His development as a player on and off court is key. He's one of the best in the league, without a doubt."
Walsh disputes the notion all his eggs are in the July 2010 basket. He says he never promised he'd build a championship team in one summer.
In defending his strategy of tanking the last two seasons to get under the cap starting in 2010, Walsh said, "Something had to be done. We were doing the same thing over the years and were in a snag and couldn't go any further.
"That's why I did it. I still think management of the cap will be important to every franchise as you go forward each summer. Not because of the money involved, but you can get yourself in a totally inflexible position. I'm trying to avoid that."
Tonight, Anthony will be defended by Knicks prospect Danilo Gallinari, who's deemed key in recruiting guys like Anthony. Gallinari recently asked D'Antoni following the trade of defensive specialist Jared Jeffries if he can defend the opponent's best perimeter player.
"I've always guarded the best [in Italy]," Gallinari said. "It's part of learning, trying to understand at which point I am and what I can do to get at that level.
"I like the challenge and want to play against the best."
D'Antoni wouldn't have agreed to give Gallinari the assignment if he thought he'd embarrass himself. Though Gallinari has had a slew of very disappointing offensive stretches this season, he has mostly been adequate defensively, which was a big worry. wtf does that mean?