Derek Fisher played against Anthony Mason early in his career and appreciated his physical toughness and versatility. In the near future, Fisher hopes to coach players who embody what Mason meant to some of the Knicks' successful teams of the past.

"Whatever it took to help his team win is what he was willing to do," Fisher said. "That's a skill and a talent in itself.

"As you try and talk to players about how to play the game and how to have a role and be selfless within the team, he's one of the guys that quickly come to mind and that you can always and will always be able to use as an example of how you can be extremely impactful on a team without necessarily scoring 20 points a game."

Mason died early Saturday morning at the age of 48. There has been an outpouring of admiration and respect for the forward who played for the Knicks from 1991-96 and was a major part of a team that averaged 54 wins and reached the 1994 NBA Finals. Those Knicks were beloved and captivated the city because of how hard they played.

At an NBA-worst 12-46, the Knicks now are light years away from that team. They don't have the talent, depth and defensive prowess of those Knicks teams, and certainly no one with the stature or skill set that Mason had.

"He embodied a lot of what we're continuing to try and do here," Fisher said. "Maybe some of our players who are playing now will get a chance to understand and embrace what Anthony Mason stood for and how much of that we still need to be carrying with us right now going forward as we try and turn this organization around."

There aren't many players in today's game who can be compared to Mason or Charles Oakley, a strong rebounder and enforcer on those Knicks teams. But Knicks president Phil Jackson wants to surround Carmelo Anthony with selfless players who can defend and rebound as well as shooters.

The Knicks will have a high lottery pick and at least $30 million for free agency to start their rebuild. Among the players the Knicks likely will target are Marc Gasol, Greg Monroe, Paul Millsap, Wesley Matthews, Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler.

It will be difficult to pry some of them and other top-line free agents away from their own teams because they can pay them the most. So the Knicks might have to be creative in how they construct their offers.

In the meantime, Fisher continues to gauge whether any of the players on the current roster can be contributors if and when the Knicks build a playoff-contending team.

The Knicks have won two straight games for only the third time this season. With Anthony recovering from season-ending knee surgery, the players doing the heavy lifting are guys who were in the D-League (Langston Galloway), on other teams (Lou Amundson, Alexey Shved) or in the trainer's room (Andrea Bargnani) when the season started.

Galloway, an undrafted rookie, hit the overtime-forcing three-pointer in Friday's double-OT win at Detroit, and his three with 13 seconds left put away Saturday's 103-98 victory over Toronto. "He's our guy down the stretch," Amundson said.

Consider that statement for a second. But it's fair to say the Knicks are high on Galloway and that Fisher likes what he's seeing from this cast of largely unproven players.

'This group really is embracing this opportunity to build some connection and cohesion as a group despite the win-loss record," Fisher said. "I think these guys feel that we actually are building something special and it's just going to take us a while to get there."

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