The Daily News’ Frank Isola on the first-place (!) Knicks and the decreasing odds that Vince Carter will end up in New York.

Carter is playing and talking his way out of Toronto, but a deal with the Knicks remains a longshot, even though Carter told Raptors management last summer that he wanted to be traded to New York.

Isiah Thomas, who is always looking to upgrade his roster and add a legitimate superstar, is said to be interested in dealing for Carter. But the Knicks president is realistic about his chances, especially since Thomas would have to part with his best player, Stephon Marbury. Toronto wants no part of Allan Houston.

The Raptors, however, are coming to the realization that they may not get equal value for Carter, whose game and production have declined for three years. Toronto talked to the Portland Trail Blazers about a deal for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Other reports had the Raptors looking to trade Carter, Jalen Rose, Milt Palacio and Jerome Moiso for Abdur-Rahim, Nick Van Exel, Derek Anderson and Vladimir Stepania.

Abdur-Rahim appeals to the Raptors because his contract expires after the season. The Knicks traded all of their expiring contracts in last summer’s deal for Jamal Crawford.

The Knicks are willing to trade Tim Thomas (above), whose value has never been lower. He also has been booed repeatedly at home games. Some executives around the league feel that a change of scenery and a change of positions – from small forward to power forward – will benefit Thomas.

A Carter-for-Thomas trade would not have seemed plausible over the summer, but Toronto may be willing to make the move if the Knicks would consider taking on Rose’s contract. Coincidentally, Carter criticized Knicks coach Lenny Wilkens after Wilkens left the Raptors, saying that the game had passed the coach by. Also, Rose feuded with Isiah Thomas, who was then coach of the Pacers and orchestrated a trade that sent Rose to Chicago.