[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]

Welcome to the playoffs? Welcome back to reality is more like it.
The pressure - and the spotlight - is now on Isiah Thomas, whose dream of building a championship team appears as daunting as ever. Thomas helped guide the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in three years but their improvement was minor, just two wins better than last year's team.

The popular theory is that Thomas has the Knicks on the right track and that within one or two years they will be legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. And while there are some encouraging signs, also remember that Cleveland, Orlando, Philadelphia and Toronto, four teams that didn't reach the playoffs, should all be better next season.

Can we really say the same about the Knicks? Allan Houston's health is a $100 million question mark. They don't have a first-round pick, they do have zero salary cap flexibility and only the $5 million mid-level exception to lure the likes of Rasheed Wallace and Kobe Bryant, two free agents who will command more money.

Isiah Thomas did acquire Stephon Marbury, a point guard whose best years are ahead of him. But Marbury, outclassed by Jason Kidd in the Nets' first-round sweep, needs a front-line big man to work with. Good luck finding one.

Thomas, the Knicks' president, will continue to tinker with the roster: Dikembe Mutombo is all but gone and Kurt Thomas, their most valuable trading chip, could be on the move. Thomas will also try to trade veterans Shandon Anderson and Othella Harrington. The Knicks could also lose a player in the expansion draft.

But unless there is a significant upgrade with a scoring center or power forward, the Knicks could be stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. Of course, that would be an improvement: they haven't had a winning record in four years.

Here's list of players the Knicks will pursue now that their season is over:

Rasheed Wallace

It just kills Thomas that Boston GM Danny Ainge made it possible for the Pistons to acquire Wallace at the trading deadline, all but ruining any chance the Knicks had of signing the free-agent-to-be. Many former teammates, including Damon Stoudamire, believe that if Wallace had remained in Atlanta he would have accepted the mid-level exception from the Knicks. Now, the player who would have been the perfect compliment to Marbury is likely to re-sign with Detroit.

Kobe Bryant

The No.1 free agent on the market heading to the NBA's top market? Keep dreaming. Even if Allan Houston had healthy knees and a reasonable contract, the Lakers would still be crazy to orchestrate a sign-and-trade with Bryant, the league's best wing player. You just don't give away that kind of talent. Phil Jackson has a better chance of ending up with the Knicks.

Antoine Walker

The Mavs are prepared to detonate their roster if they don't return to the conference finals. Walker, who nearly came to New York for Latrell Sprewell last summer in a deal that Boston eventually turned down, would give the Knicks a front-court scorer to take pressure off Marbury. Walker's freelancing ways have a tendency to frustrate coaches and alienate teammates. This is the same guy who, when asked why he shoots so many threes, replied, "Because there are no four-point shots." Consider yourselves warned.

Chris Webber

The Kings could be looking to shake up their team if they fail to reach the Finals. Three weeks ago, after being booed at home, Webber hinted at the possibility of requesting a trade. In the unlikely event that Webber is on the move, the Knicks would not have enough assets to get him. But it's worth a try.

Antawn Jamison

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year would be a starter on the Knicks and their best low-post player. Either he or Walker is probably leaving Dallas and the Knicks would take either of them.

Marcus Camby

An interesting possibility. Camby, who becomes a free agent, had a career year with Denver. What a coincidence! He's the type of athletic big man that Isiah Thomas covets. The Knicks could use their mid-level exception to bring Camby back to New York. But remember: although it was Thomas who originally drafted Camby in Toronto, it was James Dolan who questioned Camby's character.

Erick Dampier

Not a summer or a trading deadline passes without a rumor about Dampier heading to the Knicks.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim

Never played for a winning team and he's not athletic, but he's also available. Wouldn't be Thomas' first choice but he could be his last option.

Jamal Crawford

Has been on the Knicks' radar since Scott Layden was running the team. With Houston's knees a major concern, Thomas will make another run.

Tracy McGrady

An elite player, but name one all-time great who has ever been part of a team - pee wee, high school, college or pro - that lost 19 straight.

Al Harrington

Thomas would prefer Jermaine O'Neal but would take Harrington, a budding star who could become a much needed low post presence. Of course, it's hard to imagine Larry Bird and Thomas doing business