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Time for Knicks to get tough with Marbury

by Peter Vecsey

NEW YORK — If I were the Knicks’ supreme commander, the moment Stephon Marbury contemptuously announced he wouldn’t accept a Lincoln penny less than his final season’s $20.8 million salary calls for to become a free agent, I would have ended any and all absurd conjecture about him saddling up somewhere else for a championship drive.

Knicks president Donnie Walsh is far too nice to play the only kind of dirty pool people like Marbury understand.

Given Marbury’s negotiating stance and being the vindictive, grudge-to-the-grave person I am — and proud of it — unless he agreed to give the team the contract discount it demands, I wouldn’t even reflect on his possible release (if then) until after playoff eligibility expired.

Specifically, we’re talking midnight, March 1.

Any player let loose following that deadline is disqualified from participating in the postseason tournament for the current season. Should a request for waivers be made any time prior to the end of March 1, that player will remain playoff eligible.

If I were in charge of the Knicks there would be no two ways about it; Marbury already would know in no uncertain terms, either “give me the loot” or defer your fantasy fling-at-a-ring.

If Marbury is really a street wise scoundrel he’ll blink weeks before the deadline so it will appear as if he compromised willingly rather than being boxed into a corner with options exhausted. That is, if he is more interested in hopping Boston’s (temporarily?) derailed gravy train than surrendering several million unearned dollars.

“Are you crazy?” Chris Rock shrieked and cackled at such a preposterous proposition when it was recently raised in his presence. “Are you married? You think your wife would let you leave that kind of money on the table? I know mine wouldn’t!”

Clearly, Rock has no idea how much my unforgiving nature has cost me over the years.

Conversely, Marbury’s battered ego has allowed his heart to rule his head. He should have made a reasonable get-away deal — relative to what’s at stake, offering to relinquish $1 million is inequitable — as soon as Walsh proposed a buyout. He should have given himself as much time as possible with the team of his choice to get his act together and prove Mike D’Antoni committed a critical turnover when he decided not to use him.

Again, if I were running the room, it’s very doubtful Marbury would have been offered anything but directions out of town. Easy to say, of course, since it’s not my luxury taxed money that can be saved. I also don’t have to endure the perpetual nonsense his presence propagates.

Still, how foolish will the Knicks look, especially D’Antoni, should Marbury make a valuable contribution to a playoff team while the majority of his salary is being paid by Camp Cablevision?

An equally troubling scenario — though it’s becoming increasingly implausible — is Marbury helping a team beat out the Knicks for a playoff spot.

Perish those thoughts.

Better yet, get smart and spiteful; abandon all thought of furnishing Marbury with a playoff opportunity to show up the Knicks. If management is fixed on disowning him, I advocate doing it a minute into March 2 . . . or April 13, so the end of the regular season coincides with him clearing waivers.

Why allow his next team to get him on the cheap? If they want him so bad, let them foot the whole bill.

But that’s just me. Walsh is too nice to map such malice.

* * * * *

No matter how high Kevin Love’s board scores are (averages a shade under eight rebounds in 22 minutes) coach Kevin McHale is presently disinclined to reward him with a longer run.

Someone might want to make McHale aware the Timberwolves play better, move a lot more and are livelier when Love’s aggression and rebounding ability is being utilized.

I wonder if it’s occurred to McHale that NBA leader Dwight Howard averages 13.6 rebounds in 36.2 minutes; that’s 21.0 projected over the full 48. Love’s projection is 22.7.

So, why isn’t the 203-cm rookie, whom McHale swapped on draft day for O.J. Mayo, drenched in daylight?

Particularly when you consider the 11-win (five straight) team is a tenement-in-progress and the best way to develop is by making mistakes.

“I’m just a believer in that if you earn something, it always means more,” McHale explained to Love. “It doesn’t do any good to anybody to give them anything. That’s not our society now. I gave my kids bikes, and they never knew where they were. My bike was the only thing I had when I was a kid. I knew where it was at every moment of the day because I had to work for that bike. Some of the best lessons in life are earned.”

In that case, how come McHale didn’t feel it was necessary to earn his minutes behind the desk before assuming VP duties for the T-Wolves, or on the bench before taking over for Flip Saunders?

Peter Vecsey covers the NBAfor the New York Post.