Greenburgh, N.Y. Perhaps it's time for the New York Knicks to come up with a new marketing slogan.
They can borrow the phrase coach Lenny Wilkens uttered Monday, which happened to be the exact same quote team president Isiah Thomas came up with the night before: "We're not fooling ourselves."
By declaring the roster he assembled a .500 outfit, Thomas seemed to be making a concerted effort to lower expectations for the league's highest-paid team as he moves into his second year at the helm.
The Knicks' record (17-17) says they're a .500 team, and they freely admit that the prospect of finishing in first place with a 41-41 record doesn't sound all that bad.
"Let's get everybody healthy and see," Wilkens said after practice Monday. "Are we just .500, or what? Maybe we're worse."
After a whirlwind 121/2 months since Thomas replaced Scott Layden, the Knicks are coming to grips with the reality of who they are despite a league-high payroll of $103 million and a player who has proclaimed himself the NBA's best point guard -- a declaration that was immediately followed by a four-game losing streak.
"I don't think we're a great team right now. I never said so," Wilkens said. "Certainly we can have a say in a lot of things, but I don't think we've found out who we are. We haven't had everybody here to do that yet. When we do, we'll get a better handle, but if you look at our club now, yeah, we're not more than (.500)."
The feeling around the locker room seemed much more positive just a couple weeks ago, before Jamal Crawford went down with a toe injury expected to keep him sidelined for at least two more weeks.
New York strung together consecutive wins against Charlotte, Orlando and Minnesota to move three games over .500 at 16-13, but followed with a stretch of four consecutive lopsided losses to New Jersey, Sacramento, Miami and Cleveland.
"I thought that the Cleveland game, the dam broke. But tonight they put it back together again and we move forward," Thomas said after New York ended its skid with a 113-105 victory over Portland. "Right now, (compared to) where we were last year and where we're trying to get to, progress here is being made."