Landry Fields signed his rookie contract Thursday, completing a Knicks roster
that is younger, deeper and more talented than any recent edition. It comes,
however, with one minor asterisk.

Kelenna Azubuike, who was expected to compete for a starting job, may
start training camp on the sideline, because of lingering concerns over his
surgically repaired left knee.

Azubuike tore his patellar tendon last November while playing for the Golden
State Warriors. He missed the rest of the season, and the Warriors expected
he would need a full year to recover.

The Knicks are taking a similarly conservative approach.
“We’re not sure,” said the team president Donnie Walsh, who described a
torn patellar tendon as “one of the worst injuries in the league.”

Azubuike spent most of the summer rehabilitating with a private trainer. He
just began working with the Knicks’ staff this week, so team officials do not
yet have a firm assessment. Azubuike is not yet running or jumping, which
suggests that he is a long way from playing high-level basketball.

“I think it’s 50-50 whether he’ll be ready for training camp right now,”
D’Antoni said. “He thinks he will be.”

When healthy, the 26-year-old Azubuike is probably the Knicks’ top candidate
to start at shooting guard, because of his athleticism, his strength and his
steady 3-point stroke. At 6 feet 5 inches and 220 pounds, Azubuike is built
“like a brick,” D’Antoni said, and is an above-average defender.

Wilson Chandler, Roger Mason and Bill Walker are also candidates to start at
shooting guard.

Fields, the 39th pick in the June draft, should compete for playing time at
both shooting guard and small forward after impressing team officials in the
summer league, when he averaged a team-leading 15.6 points. The 6-7, 210-
pound Fields averaged 22 points and 8.8 rebounds in his senior season at

With Fields signed, the Knicks’ roster is essentially set. They have 14 players
with guaranteed contracts and no immediate plans to fill the final vacancy.
(Center Jerome Jordan, another second-round pick, will begin his career in
Serbia. The Knicks retain his rights.) A handful of players will be brought to
camp on partial guarantees and perhaps compete for the 15th spot.

It is almost an entirely new roster. Of the 14 players under contract, only
Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Toney Douglas played major roles last season.
Walker (who played in 27 games) and Eddy Curry (7 games) also return.

The lineup will be rebuilt around the star forward Amar’e Stoudemire and point
guard Raymond Felton, the Knicks’ biggest free-agent signings this summer.
Gallinari, a rising star, will probably start at small forward.

Everything else will be up for grabs when the Knicks open training camp Sept.
25 at their training center in Greenburgh. They open the preseason Oct. 6 in
Milan, Italy, where Gallinari began his professional career as a teenager.