Knick fans probably don't want to hear it, but Isiah Thomas is saying it: the Knicks are in for a long ... slow ... tedious rebuilding process.
Speaking at the Garden last night before yet another loss, Thomas further braced the public for a painful retooling period. The Knicks president echoed James Dolan's plea for patience last week, and he hinted at the mess he inherited from Scott Layden.

"At some point in time we want to be playing for the NBA championship," said Thomas, who also reiterated his intention to remain solely in the front office, not to coach the team. "That's going to be a long, slow, tedious process. It took a long time to get in this spot that we find ourselves in today."

In saying that, Thomas seemed to be laying much of the blame for the Knicks' current condition on the preceding administration. "When I took the job," Thomas said, "none of you said we were going to turn it around in 11 months or 13 months."

But the roster already has been turned over almost entirely under Thomas. Only three players remain from previous regimes: Allan Houston, Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney. Although Isiah inherited salary-cap problems when he arrived, his acquisitions since may further limit the Knicks.

"There's nothing I can do about the numbers; there's nothing you can do about the numbers," Thomas said. "However, at the end of the day, we still found a way to get a (Stephon) Marbury at 27, to get a (Jamal) Crawford at 24 and a (Trevor) Ariza at 19. And you've got a Sweetney at 22. We got a (Nazr) Mohammed at 27. You've got Tim Thomas, who's probably having the worst year of his basketball life."

But then, the Knicks (19-30) are in the midst of an awful year themselves. Thomas insisted there is no quick fix.

"What I've got to do this summer - and I don't know if I can do it - but you've still got to try to find a way to work within this system to try to acquire some younger players," Thomas said. "New York has always been in a mode of robbing Peter to pay Paul. But at some time you've got to stop and you've got to absorb some pain."

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