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D'Antoni: 'Our big date is circled as July 1'

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Draft day is a bit anticlimactic for Mike D'Antoni.

"Our big date is circled as July 1," the New York Knicks coach said Thursday, not exactly revealing a franchise secret.

For two years team president Donnie Walsh has maneuvered to slash salaries, freeing up cap room in anticipation of this summer's glittery free agent class. For two years D'Antoni has presided over undermanned, losing squads as fans fantasized about LeBron James — or at least some other All-Star — signing and returning the club to glory.

"We'll set a course for the franchise for the next 10 years," D'Antoni said.

No pressure.

The Knicks only had two second-round picks Thursday. What would've been their first-round slot — No. 9 — belonged to Utah, surrendered way back when they acquired Stephon Marbury from Phoenix. The Jazz selected Butler forward Gordon Hayward.

New York took Syracuse guard Andy Rautins 38th overall and Stanford forward Landry Fields at No. 39.

When D'Antoni contends the Knicks have a good hand to attract a marquee player, it goes without saying that they're all in when it comes to resting their hopes on free agency.

There's always the chance they won't land a single big name, losing out to other teams who have also aggressively cleared cap space.

"That's why we won't sleep a whole lot the next week," D'Antoni said.

While acknowledging that "we have to win," D'Antoni insisted that the Knicks' roster was no less attractive a destination than that of other suitors.

"Almost all the teams have cleared everybody out, so we're all the same," he said before the start of the draft. "Everybody's got this space, and you're trying to fill it up with other people. I think our core of young players can be put up against anybody."

D'Antoni then warned reporters not to smirk at that last assertion.

Just in case the Knicks don't reel in one of the top few free agents, D'Antoni seemed to be laying the groundwork for possibly having to sell the signing of several lesser names.

"We have some pieces that are very interesting. We have a lot of room, and we're able to find players that complement each other and that play off each other and that are the best fits," he said. "We think we can come out with the best team."

For now, the Knicks will make their sales pitch to the biggest stars of the free agency class.

"We're selling the best place in the world to come live and play," D'Antoni said.

Asked if he was worried about other teams making moves to clear cap space, he shot back: "As long as we keep the Empire State Building where it is, I think we'll be OK."

The Knicks are mired in nine straight losing seasons, though the last two have been more palatable for fans convinced there was a LeBron at the end of the tunnel. Now after all those months of talk, the big day is just a week away.

"We've gone through two years of not a whole lot of fun," D'Antoni said. "This is what we all signed on for, and this is what we'll try to realize, and I'm excited about it. At the same time, obviously everybody is a little nervous about it. That's because there's high stakes out there."