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Van Gundy Stresses No. 15

There were 16 New York Knicks, Latrell Sprewell not among them, in attendance Monday to hear coach Jeff Van Gundy explain the significance of the number 15.

With Sprewell still in California for closing arguments in a civil trial stemming from his 1998 reckless driving conviction, Van Gundy assembled the Knicks in a hotel ballroom, gave them T-shirts with the number 15 and told them that 15 postseason victories equals a championship.

"All you have to do is sit through one of Jeff's speeches to know that there's work to do," forward Larry Johnson said. "We didn't win it all, but we got there (to the NBA Finals). It was super hard to get there, and now it's going to be super hard to win it all."

Things will be especially tough for New York at the start of the season, with centers Patrick Ewing and Chris Dudley injured and the team playing 13 of its first 18 games on the road not to mention Sprewell getting a late start.

The Knicks, unsure when Sprewell will join them at training camp, are treating his tardiness as an excused absence. He is being sued by the driver and passenger of a car that overturned when Sprewell cut in front of them on an exit ramp.

"It's a big deal that he missed the discussion," teammate Allan Houston said. "Jeff made some great points in the meeting, but I'm sure Jeff will talk to him. He (Sprewell) has to take care of his business."

Ewing reported that the pain from his Achilles' tendinitis has lessened, although it's still so sore that he hasn't done any running.

Dudley said his goal was to be back from a strained knee ligament by opening night, with the worst-case scenario having him sitting out the first month of the season.

Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas are the likely candidates to open the season as the starting center, with newly signed Andrew Lang backing up until Dudley and Ewing are ready.

"He wasn't promised me anything," said Camby, who worked out all summer in close view of Van Gundy at the Knicks' practice facility in Purchase, N.Y. "Starting or coming off the bench, it really doesn't matter at this point. If I come off the bench, fine, like I did in the playoffs last year and got 30 minutes a night."

As for the rest of the starting lineup, Van Gundy refused to disclose his plans.

The subject is a mater of much debate in New York, with the Knicks coming off a tumultuous and surprisingly successful season in which Sprewell was unhappy being kept in a sixth man role until the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana.

Van Gundy said over the summer that he was "leaning" toward making Sprewell a starter, but he wouldn't promise Sprewell the job publicly Monday. Nor did the coach address the Thomas-Camby question, the point guard roles of Chris Childs and Charlie Ward (who wore a "Jesus is a Knicks fan" T-shirt to media day) or the amount of playing time free agent pickup John Wallace will get behind Johnson.

"You're not going to pin me down on anybody," Van Gundy said. "In my mind, I know who I'm going to start with and who I'm going to finish with, basically. But training camp is the x-factor. I don't know who's improved, who's in great shape. So I don't want to limit somebody."

"One thing I know is that championship level teams and championship level players never resent when another good player is added to the mix. They don't worry about shots, roles, minutes and that's what I expect of our guys."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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