Give Isiah some props

— -- Remember Spike Lee's classic NBA commercial that featured rookie LeBron James in a baby carriage? Well, Spike's work has become a much-looked-forward-to annual event, and I attended the shooting of some of this year's commercials last week.

I won't give it all away, but Ali G, HBO's British hip hopper, is in the spots, and he's hilarious. Also, Reggie Miller will join TNT's studio staff of Sir Charles, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. The foursome was in some of the shots with Ali G, and judging by the off-camera banter between Barkley and Miller, those two should provide some priceless commentary on the show.

The key is for Miller to be himself and speak his mind like Barkley does. When they discussed LeBron and other guys in the league in between takes, they had some riveting disagreements and each made strong points. Hopefully, they'll keep it real like that on the air this season.

Shaq and D Wade were the only players I saw, and though I talked to both of them, I won't write about it in this space because I've been giving the Heat way too much pub. I'll just leave you with this quote from Shaq and move on: "Anything less than a championship this season would be uncivilized.''

Spike, running things from the director's chair, was hyped. He rolled up on me smiling like Mars Blackmon while screaming, "Nate Robinson! Nate Robinson!''

Spike's feeling good about his Knicks again, and you've got to give him mad credit. I covered the Knicks during those lean, post-Jeff Van Gundy years, and I watched celebrity row dwindle to almost nothing. P-Diddy, LL, Seinfeld, Star Jones -- they all stopped coming.

But Spike stayed put, sitting there in the front row in some blue and orange Nikes and an oversized Sprewell jersey. Through all the drubbings -- I actually witnessed them get stomped by 43 on MLK Day -- Spike was there. He's a true fan, so I'm glad he's got something to get happy about.

Happy about? You say. I know the Knicks aren't contending for anything but the 8th playoff spot this year, but I think Isiah Thomas deserves props for at least making the team relevant and exciting again.

When he took over for Scott Layden, the Knicks were an absolute disaster, with a roster full of marginal players making star dollars. Just about every executive in the league thought the Knicks were stuck with a bunch of immovable players. But Isiah has changed almost the entire roster in less than two seasons. That was no easy chore.

Granted, he's brought together a lot of talent at the same positions (1, 2 and 3), but his plan is to collect assets and then try and use them to trade for a top-flight 4 or 5 man. Looks like he's in the hunt for Eddy Curry, who isn't exactly top-flight -- or safe (heart condition) -- but hey, it would be an upgrade.

At least Isiah's Knicks have some street cred. I remember a few years ago B.I. (Before Isiah) when a Knicks exec said to me, "Can you believe this? We're in the mecca of playground basketball and we've got the least amount of street cred in the league.'' That's when Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac and Howard Eisley were key cogs in the Knicks' attack.

Now, with Starbury, Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Trevor Ariza, and Nate Rob, the Knicks once again get love and respect down at the Rucker. Little Nate Rob might even win the dunk contest this season. Write it down.

Insiders tell me the Knicks can't wait for Nate Rob to get in Steph's jock during training camp. Certainly no one expects him to challenge Steph for his spot, but while he's the best player on the team, Steph ain't exactly the hardest working man on the practice court (so I hear). Folks know Nate will be in Steph's grill and won't be punked into backing down. Should be fun to watch, not to mention make Steph even sharper than usual.

After this season -- or during this season -- Isiah will have some valuable trade bait in Tim Thomas, Penny Hardaway, Maurice Taylor and Allan Houston, all of whom are nearing the end of lucrative contracts. And Houston -- one of my favorites -- might actually be able to contribute on the court again.

He's been working out all summer and his J is as pure as ever -- at a recent practice, he drained 17 straight 3s from the top of the key. He's supposed to start training camp, so if he's healthy, he could help a lot. Don't forget, if he hadn't been unable to play, the Knicks probably would have been in the playoffs last year.

Then, of course, there's Larry Brown.

So yeah, at best the Knicks are first-round playoff fodder for one the Eastern kingpins, but they'll still put on a good show at the Garden. Celebrity row is getting live again, with Jay Z, Fat Joe and others making regular appearances. The same could not be said during the last few dismal Layden years.

So go ahead Spike, get hyped. Enjoy it while it lasts -- which should be about 87, 88 games.

For a nice, in-depth look at how the Knicks' downfall began, check out Howard Beck's article in today's New York Times.