Larry Hughes understands that the chances of him returning to the Knicks next season are slim to none. Unfortunately, the same may be true of one Hughes' best friends as well.
Hughes reiterated Wednesday that he believes LeBron James, the Knicks' primary free agent target, will re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers when James becomes a free agent next summer.
"I still feel that way," Hughes said following the Knicks' practice in Greenburgh, N.Y. "He's got a good opportunity to win there. And I know a lot of people talk about him playing in a big market, but he just wants to win a ring. It's not about playing in a big market."
Hughes speaks regularly to his former teammate with the Cavs and maintains that James is content with the direction of the club. Hughes was with Cleveland when James reached his first NBA Finals in 2007. After the Cavs were eliminated by Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals last May, the club acquired Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Parker, Leon Powe and Jamario Moon.
Like LeBron, Hughes will also become a free agent next summer, but his future and present for that matter remain unsettled. Hughes is versatile enough to play three positions, but with the Knicks committed to their younger players - Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Nate Robinson and Toney Douglas - and with Mike D'Antoni committed to using a shorter rotation, Hughes could be the odd man out.
"Well, I expect to be playing," Hughes says. "But it's the coach's decision to make. But I'll do whatever the team needs."
Hughes doesn't think of himself as an older player. He's only 30, but Hughes is entering his 12th NBA season, and the wear and tear is catching up to him. He's lost some of his athleticism, and his durability is a question. Hughes has appeared in 70 or more games once in the last seven years.
Nor does he get much of a grace period with fans. Hughes was booed in his first game last season after being acquired from Chicago and he heard the same derisive cries in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's preseason loss to Philadelphia. Hughes missed all eight shots he attempted against the Sixers, but his teammates weren't much better.
David Lee was 2-for-8, Jared Jeffries and Chris Duhon both shot 2-for-7 and Gallinari was 1-for-6. But only Jeffries and Hughes heard boos.
D'Antoni has two weeks to figure out which eight or nine players will become part of the rotation. If Douglas, the rookie point guard, struggles, Hughes could find himself on the court on opening night chasing after Dwyane Wade. His experience and toughness could be valuable assets for a young team hoping to reach the playoffs.
Otherwise, Hughes will be on the bench biding his time until he becomes a free agent in July.