NEW YORK -- Ask an average NBA player, any average NBA player, if he can develop into a star, and chances are the ballplayer will nod in bobblehead form and swear he merely needs the right coach, the right system, and the requisite amount of touches and shots.
Ask Danilo Gallinari if he can grow into a star or superstar over time, and suddenly you hear a taxicab confession in the middle of the losers' locker room.
"I don't think so," Gallinari said.
"I will try to work as hard as I can to help the team win, that's my goal," Gallinari said Wednesday night after his New York Knicks lost to the Golden State Warriors by a 122-117 count. "My goal is not to be a superstar."
OK, this was worth another try. Gallinari had just emerged from the Madison Square Garden showers, where he tried and failed to wash away his big misses in the fourth quarter. He took three shots in the final 83 seconds of a frantic game, two of them open 3-pointers that could have ruined David Lee's homecoming night, and 24 hours after a dreadful 1-for-6 performance in Milwaukee, Gallinari fired nothing but blanks.
No, it wasn't all his fault, not even close. Raymond Felton doesn't know how to run the pick-and-roll with Amare Stoudemire, and the Knicks still play team defense as though it's a suggestion, not a mandate.
But Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni need the 22-year-old Gallinari to develop into something special, or at least something damn close to special. Walsh and D'Antoni made the Italian forward their program's very first draft pick, taking him ahead of Eric Gordon and Brook Lopez.
The Knicks need Gallinari to be their most reliable shooter since Allan Houston if they're going to grow into a true contender with him in the lineup, or if they're going to persuade Denver to accept a Gallinari-centric package in exchange for Carmelo Anthony.
In fact, the Knicks used Gallinari as part of their doomed summertime sales pitch to LeBron James. They presented James' people with statistics favorably comparing their 6-foot-10 hopeful to the likes of Peja Stojakovic, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu in the early stages of their careers.
So Wednesday night, with LeBron long gone and Anthony still off somewhere in the distance, Gallinari was reminded that some smart basketball people believe he has the talent to be a star, maybe a superstar.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't think I have those abilities."
"No. To get to be a superstar you have to have a lot of things, and if you compare me to Carmelo and LeBron ... there's a big difference. It will still take a lot of work."
No argument there. And nobody ever suggested Gallinari could someday emerge as a planet in LeBron's faraway solar system.
But Gallinari has to be better than this -- as in much -- for D'Antoni's ultimate vision to come to life. Stoudemire is the Knicks' centerpiece, and he gave them 33 points and 10 rebounds, even if he did blow two huge free throws with 49.4 seconds left.
Wilson Chandler is the Knicks' second-best player, and he ripped a page from the Willis Reed playbook after a Lee elbow shattered one of his teeth. Chandler finished with 27 points, nine in the fourth quarter, only to miss the potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds that by now should be a shot designed exclusively for Gallinari to take.
"There were four or five options," D'Antoni said of that possession, which ended when Stoudemire fed Chandler for a heave that landed -- fittingly enough -- in Lee's waiting hands.
"It was a little bit of a Hail Mary," the coach conceded.
Of course, D'Antoni once called Gallinari "the best shooter I've ever seen." That shooter should've been Option 1, 2 and 3 on the final shot, if only he wasn't suffering a severe crisis of faith.
"Our outside shots are not going," D'Antoni said. "People are pressing."
Gallinari denied that he's one of them, but the numbers and the films don't lie. He's dealt with a sore wrist and an ego bruised by the Anthony trade talks. The pick-and-roll problems aren't helping Gallinari, but then again, his problems aren't helping the pick-and-roll.
Wednesday night, Gallinari missed all five of his 3-point attempts and looked like the least comfortable man on the floor. Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis did their Frazier and Monroe thing, and Lee did more gesturing, chest-bumping and primal screaming than he did in five seasons with the Knicks.
Gallinari? He did go 9-for-9 from the line and finish with 15 points and seven rebounds. He also bricked the shots that mattered most and did what the Knicks do best: He found a way to lose.
"Our chemistry is not there yet," Gallinari said, "but we will get there."
The Knicks will get there sooner rather than later if Gallinari finds his game and his nerve. So what's the kid's upside?
"I think the level of Dirk," Gallinari said.
Dirk Nowitzki? Yes, that's more like that.
"I think I can get near to that," Gallinari said. "I don't know if I can get there."
Truth is, Danilo Gallinari doesn't have to be another Dirk Nowitzki.
But he's got to be a lot better than this.