NEW YORK -- Isiah Thomas thinks the Knicks' season would have been much different if Stephon Marbury had been around.
And yet, Thomas seems ready to move on without his point guard next season.
A day after finally seeming to confirm that Marbury won't play again this season, Thomas said Wednesday the Knicks will go into 2008-09 needing a third guard to play with Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson.
But when asked if that player could be Marbury, who will still be under contract for nearly $21 million, Thomas quickly tried to change the subject, saying, "Let's discuss next year when this year's over."
It almost is already for the Knicks.
The Knicks entered their game against Charlotte 7˝ games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But Thomas believes New York would be much closer if Marbury had played more than 24 games.
"I think that goes without saying. Without a doubt, yeah," Thomas said. "He's a good player, he's a quality player. The things that he was capable of doing out on the floor and the things that he does out of on the floor, he's a threat. You have to guard him and he's capable of winning you some games.
"So if was healthy and not had such an emotional year and would have had the same type of year that he had last year, I think it's safe to say that we probably would have won five to six more games here and be right in the thick of things."
Marbury had surgery to remove spurs in his left ankle on Jan. 22 and the Knicks have only said he is out indefinitely. Thomas referred after practice Tuesday to the Knicks having "a major player in terms of an injury go out for the season," though never specifically used Marbury's name. However, none of New York's other important players are hurt.
Marbury is averaging 13.9 points during the worst season of his career and has had a variety of reasons for his absences. He skipped a game in Phoenix in November after a disagreement with Thomas, then sat out 10 games following his father's death early in December.
He returned to play six games before having surgery -- which the Knicks said was Marbury's choice.
Thomas rarely even talks about Marbury, though the two were once close. But even while trying to back away from the comments about Marbury being out for the year, Thomas did acknowledge how much his former star is missed.
"I don't even want to say a small chance because tomorrow's headlines will say 'Steph's coming back,'" Thomas said. "So we'll see what the doctors say [but] we did lose a quality player."