PURCHASE, N.Y., OCT. 18 -- If competition in training camp is healthy, then the New York Knicks are all right. The top eight positions on the club are virtually set in stone, but there are battles among seven players for the last four jobs.
In the middle of this, of course, is Coach Stu Jackson, who said he has not made any decisions and might use the entire preseason to make final selections.
It is believed the Knicks have 13 players on their roster with guaranteed contracts, meaning at least one player will be paid though he will not be on the team.
As for Jackson, he has a watchful eye on his group. "It's too early to tell who'll make it," he said. "But, basically, they tell you who should make it and who shouldn't."
The following is a breakdown by position of the players and the battles going on to make the team:
Guard: Maurice Cheeks, Gerald Wilkins, Mark Jackson and Trent Tucker are assured of spots. The battle here is between two free agents, 5-foot-7 Greg Grant and 6-5 John Starks -- if the Knicks decide to keep five guards. So far, it looks as if Grant will get the job. Stu Jackson has spoken highly of Grant and said he believes Grant can give a lackluster team a needed burst of energy at times during a long season.
"He could be a nice little weapon for us," the coach said. "He really helps us in practice a lot because he's always playing up tempo. In game situations, he just changes the complexion with his speed."
Jackson added that Grant's role, should he make the team, likely would be as a sparkplug for about five minutes when he plays. And although he could be a defensive liability because of his size, Jackson said: "I know he has some value. I haven't made a decision, but I like him."
Starks is a good outside shooter who also can play the point. He is quick, but not as quick as Grant. In Barcelona, he played in the championship game against Yugoslavia's POP 84 Split and scored two points on one-of-four shooting.
Forward: University of Maryland rookie Jerrod Mustaf, who has impressed early, will back up Charles Oakley at power forward, while Kenny Walker will serve as Kiki Vandeweghe's backup at small forward. Second-year player Brian Quinnett is the other reserve small forward.
The battle is between Eddie Lee Wilkins and nine-year veteran Earl Cureton. Wilkins has been a valuable reserve the past three seasons, backing up Oakley and center Patrick Ewing. But he's mostly a scorer with limited interior defensive skills.
Cureton, at 6-9, is a crafty low-post defender and a strong defensive rebounder. "He's a very stable guy," Jackson said. "He does a lot of little things that you need. He runs the floor well and he sets good screens."
Cureton seems to have won a roster spot, which might include some backup duties in the middle.
Center: The competition for the job as Ewing's backup also is intense. The 6-10 Wilkins is up against 7-foot Stuart Gray. Clearly, Wilkins has more talent, but as a seven-footer, Gray may have the upper hand. Wilkins should get the job, but coaches like the numbers 7-0, even if the player is not expected to contribute much. There's a chance, however small, that both of them will be cut.
If the Knicks keep five guards, they will be short a big man, which most clubs do not like. Whatever the outcome, it should go down to the wire.
"I'm going to try to pick the best team," Jackson said. "I don't think it'll be that difficult. . . . But it's interesting. I don't know anything about who has guaranteed contracts. I'm the coach, that's it."