Knicks' Houston taking his time with return to NBA

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Allan Houston made it through only one full practice before pulling himself out.

Not a very promising sign for a guy attempting a comeback.

Houston, though, is in no rush to show the New York Knicks what he can do. Unlike a year ago, when he didn't have much time to make a successful return, coach Mike D'Antoni and president Donnie Walsh say Houston will be given most of the month to prove that, at 37 and with a history of knee trouble, he can handle the running involved in D'Antoni's system.

So Houston sat out the scrimmage Tuesday night during the second practice of the opening day of training camp, not wanting to push a body that hasn't endured twice-a-day workouts in years.

"To give it a fair chance under my situation, it's probably not even smart to go out and do everything, especially the first week," Houston said after practicing Wednesday morning. "As the season goes on, yeah, I'm going to be able to probably do everything, but two-a-days is a whole different ballgame than when you practice during the season. So this is really just getting used to doing this again."

Neither Houston nor D'Antoni were concerned that Houston sat out -- D'Antoni joked that everyone wanted to, but Houston had seniority. Besides, the coach has already seen reason to believe this could work.

"It's uncanny how he shoots the basketball," D'Antoni said. "It's ridiculous. Everything that goes up, you know it's going in."

Shooting was never Houston's problem. Running is, and that would seem to make D'Antoni's system a bad fit for someone who had to retire three years ago because of chronic knee pain.

But Amare Stoudemire came back from multiple knee surgeries to return to All-Star form playing for D'Antoni in Phoenix, so it's not impossible. Houston isn't concerned with the pace D'Antoni's teams play at.

"If you're going to play, you're going to play. I think that's just a huge misconception," Houston said. "If you're out here running and playing, you're playing. No matter what system."

Houston made it through both sessions Wednesday. For now, he'll discuss with D'Antoni what he can and wants to do on a daily basis.

"We'll talk every day, because at age 37 and probably financially set, he might not need this," D'Antoni said. "This is not easy and if he's not playing a lot or if it's still hurting him and he just can't get over the hump, then he might get discouraged and call it off, and that's why we talk every day and if he feels good about it, then let's keep going forward."

If Houston sticks, D'Antoni said he can envision him coming off the bench as a "game changer" or a "role player in certain situations." Houston used to be much more than that.

Fourth on the Knicks' career scoring list behind Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, Houston was twice an All-Star, won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, and hit one of the most famous shots in franchise history when his jumper in the closing seconds of the deciding Game 5 eliminated top-seeded Miami in the first round of the 1999 playoffs and kick-started a shocking run to the NBA finals.

Not long after the Knicks gave Houston a $100 million, six-year contract extension in 2001 came his knee problems. He managed only 20 games during the 2004-05 season and retired the following preseason. His legs felt better last year so he tried to come back, but realizes now the timing just wasn't right.

After staying home to be with his wife while she gave birth to a daughter, Houston didn't join the team until 10 days after training camp opened. He wasn't in great shape and appeared briefly in just one exhibition game before ending his comeback attempt about a week later.

Former coach Isiah Thomas never seemed comfortable having Houston in camp, admitting that he only gave his former Detroit teammate a chance because of what he accomplished as a Knick. But it's different with D'Antoni, who constantly raves about Houston's shooting.

And if the legs hold up, that shot certainly gives Houston a legitimate chance to make the roster. If not, he could probably find a job within the organization, or perhaps try to latch on with another team that needs a shooter and doesn't play such a physically demanding style.

"I don't even really think that far," Houston said. "I force myself not to think about the negatives. When that happens, then I'll think about it."