September 28, 2003 -- The Knicks' post-Spree era begins this week devoid of expectations and hope. Any Knicks playoff talk begins and ends with discussion of Antonio McDyess' mending knee.
Players with three years or less experience report to training camp tomorrow, with veterans arriving Thursday. Veterans are banned from the building during rookie camp, unless undergoing rehab.
That McDyess and Allan Houston are allowed inside the Knicks' Westchester practice facility is symbolic of the team's state: likely lottery-bound for a third straight year.
McDyess and Houston are rehabbing from knee surgeries. Houston, who had arthroscopic surgery, is not expected to sufffer lingering implications and could be ready for Friday's initial veteran practice.
The McDyess mystery continues, however. Though his rehab from a third patella surgery in 18 months has gone extremely well, the power forward is not expected to play in the preseason games. He is working out on the court, should be available to do many team drills, and could be ready to suit up early in the season. GM Scott Layden will give a specific timetable during his state of the Knicks address Thursday.
In a poll of five NBA executives, every one uttered the same playoff sentiment about the Knicks: "They have a good chance if Antonio returns." If he doesn't, Keith Van Horn will not carry the club to postseason; nor would have Latrell Sprewell.
Even if McDyess plays his first regular-season game as a Knick in November, what will he look like and how long will it last? One prominent knee specialist said in April that McDyess' situation reeks of Grant Hill's: Both stars have wear-and-tear injuries that probably won't heal fully enough to withstand the rigors of an NBA season.
"It will take time for him to develop confidence in his knee and play with the reckless abandon you need to play with," one GM said.
Without McDyess, the Knicks are no better than last season's 37-45 record, though rookies Maciej Lampe and Mike Sweetney offer a brighter future.
"They did well in the draft, but there's nobody [who is] going to make an immediate impact," a team executive said.
A trade? Teams are still trying to pare payroll, which had made Charlie Ward's contract desirable because of a $2M buyout clause. But the Knicks would need a major upgrade in talent, as point guard Frank Williams didn't show in summer league he's ready for major minutes.
"Everyone's pursuing Charlie but they're just not giving him away," one league source said.
Added another GM, "They'll be challenged athletically without [McDyess]. Most teams that are not real athletic will be challenged defensively."
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finnaly.. thursday we'll get to know if dice' gonna play
Allan Houston's right knee: Don't underestimate Houston's summer arthroscopic surgery. Any surgery - even to clean loose cartilage - is a big deal at age 32.
Houston's rehab went slower than hoped. Last month, still in pain, he expressed concern he wouldn't be ready for Day 1 of practice. It's a shame, too, because Houston is coming off a career year while finally winning over the Garden faithful.