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VAN GUNDY: BRACE FOR A LONG SEASON Jeff Van Gundy, back in the Garden tonight to broadcast the LeBron James Classic for ESPN, warned Knicks fans to brace for a rough season and not complain about it if they believe in Donnie Walsh's Master Plan.

The ex- Knicks coach said the club has "average talent" and too many guys with expiring contracts who have not always shown the height of professionalism the past few seasons.

The Knicks carry a 1-4 record into tonight's mega-event against King James and the Cavaliers.

They made no upgrades this summer, protecting their salary-cap space for 2010 so they can be in position to sign the Cavaliers superstar as a free agent.

"The question is, do you have the stomach for this plan?" Van Gundy told The Post, referring to Knicks fans.

"Everyone said they're in on the plan. You only know if you're in when going through adversity. To expect them not to have ups and downs would be crazy.

"They have a lot of guys whose futures are up in the air. They have average talent for the NBA. Sometimes when they don't do well, people say, 'What's wrong?' What's wrong is they have average talent."

The Knicks' talent level is not what bothers Van Gundy. He's concerned the players may not take winning seriously enough - a point Chris Duhon tried to make in an MSG Network interview last weekend.

Last season, Van Gundy blasted David Lee on the air. VG chided Lee for indicating satisfaction after Dream Week when they lost to the Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics.

Lee called it "the best 0-3 week I've ever had."

"It's interesting Duhon called into question some of the players' professionalism," Van Gundy said.

"They all could take a strong look at what they can do to up their level of play through increased level of preparation and determination."

"Al Harrington admitted last year there were dance-offs before games," Van Gundy added.

"That he thought it OK to admit that publicly was appalling, even if it may have happened. I'm not saying old school is better than new school. Knick fans, the GM and coach deserve their best efforts, deserve a group committed to being ready to play and take the result hard and not casually.

"What I said about David Lee, that's what I felt. I don't think I was too hard. In some ways, I was too soft. I thought the statement was a very poor sentiment."

Van Gundy, who's never broadcast a game from the Garden, won't knock Walsh.

"I don't know how you can knock anything he's done," Van Gundy said.

"They've rid themselves of long-term contracts, trying like heck to get out of the rut of mediocrity. You win championships by having star players. I don't know if it will work, but the strategy is sound."

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Added: November 7, 2009


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