New York’s Wild Season Comes To A Close

Almost as soon as LeBron James and company finished off the New York Knicks season on Tuesday, putting to bed any silly notion that the Knicks were capable of taking the Miami Heat into deep water, the questions about next season at MSG began to quickly accumulate.

Even for a team that seems to have existed in a dysfunctional world for years, this season has been remarkable for it’s soap opera-like quality. It’s been a year of extremes. Hope, despair, expectation and back to despair again. With the Knicks there’s very little middle ground—very little normalcy. The San Antonio Spurs they’re not.

In-fact, there’s been four distinct incarnations of the Knicks this season:

Knicks 1.0: The team that sputtered out the gate, going 8-14 over the first third of the year, and putting D’Antoni’s job in jeopardy (a constant theme). This was when everyone was frantically inquiring about the state of Baron Davis’ back—as if he was the answer to their point guard woes. Well, in fairness, they were starting Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas.

Knicks 2.0: The loveable underdog incarnation of the Knicks. An undrafted, Harvard educated, Asian-American point guard named Jeremy Lin, who was a week away from being cut, bursts onto the scene and instantly makes the Knicks relevant again. With Carmelo Anthony injured and out of the line-up, D’Antoni finally gets to run his desired up-tempo pick-n-roll offense. Decent things happen.

Knicks 3.0: Melo and Amar’e return, everyone stops playing defense, while the once fluid offense grinds to a halt. Anthony doesn’t feel loved, the Knicks stop winning, and rumors about D’Antoni losing the locker-room (a.k.a Carmelo’s respect) are rampant.

Knicks 4.0: The classic ‘change the coach and everyone starts playing harder’ scenario in full effect. Mike Woodson takes over, Anthony insists that he be held accountable and plays great, and Lin gets injured. Fans and analysts alike are awoken from the delusion that somehow Anthony wasn’t the most important player on the team.

Of course, not even this incarnation of the Knicks was going to beat the Heat in a seven game series. Not unless James Dolan somehow managed to ship James to Antarctica for two months.

Now that the Knicks have been eliminated and the on-court drama has ceased, the front office is left with some interesting decisions to make.

First, there’s the question of Mike Woodson’s future. Woodson did a great job in difficult circumstances—dealing with a team that was low on confidence and badly faltering. He did indeed hold his stars accountable. Anthony played at both ends of the floor and the Knicks went on a nice run to end the season. Furthermore, the players appear to have bought into Woodson’s system.

A Phil Jackson or a John Calipari would be sexier choices—big names that Knicks’ nation craves—but Woodson finally brought some much-needed stability to the team, and sticking with him might be the wisest option.

At point guard there’s plenty to ponder. Baron Davis and Mike Bibby won’t be in Knicks’ colors next year (or anyone’s colors). Jeremy Lin is a restricted free agent, but will only be able to receive the mid-level exception from other teams, as he’s yet to play three seasons. Re-signing Lin makes sense, both from a slightly cynical marketing perspective, and also a basketball one, too.

He’s proven, albeit over a brief stretch of time, that he can play in the NBA. He’s young, has a great basketball I.Q., and will no doubt improve on the weaker facets of his game. Going through an actual training camp will help with that immensely.

So re-signing Lin is a no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe not if a future Hall-of-Famer named Steve Nash shows an interest in coming to MSG. Nash, as we all know, spends his off-seasons in the Big Apple and his name’s been linked with the Knicks for what feels like an eternity now.

One thing’s for sure, Amar’e Stoudemire is clamoring hard for Nash to come to New York. Stoudemire recently stated that “I love Steve, it would be great to have him here next year”.

Whether Nash obliges his former teammate will come down to money and whether he feels like the Knicks can make a serious run at the championship. If he’s interested, the Knicks will have to decide whether they would prefer to have two very good years from Nash, or potentially seven or eight decent ones from Lin.

For Stoudemire, being paired with Nash again would be ideal—a chance to re-kindle one of the best pick-n-rolls of all time. How Carmelo would fit into that scenario leads us to the biggest dilemma for this team going forward—the offensive cohesion.

In Game 5 on Tuesday, Carmelo took 31 shots, while Stoudemire took just 7. Whatever Stoudemire says in public, there’s no way that he can be satisfied with such a meager share of the offense. Unfortunately for him, the Knicks have looked much better offensively when he’s not on the floor.

Stoudemire may be an elite power forward in the NBA, but he’s not actually the best power forward on his own team. Carmelo excelled in April playing at the 4 spot. He didn’t have to worry about chasing quick small forwards around the court (which he struggles with), and could focus on guarding the opponent’s 4 in the paint. Offensively, Anthony can destroy most power forwards he comes up against. He has the strength to post-up and is too quick for most defenders at that position.

Ideally, of course, the Knicks would love to trade Stoudemire. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell, however, that another team would take on that contract. The Knicks will therefore have to hope that Stoudemire and Anthony can somehow function together on the floor. Again, being able to have a training camp might help with that.

Like it or not, Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler will form the core of the Knicks’ team for the years to come. Iman Shumpert should continue to grow at the 2-guard position, but the pieces they pick up to complement their starters will be crucial in deciding whether the Knicks can mount a challenge next year.

In true Knicks fashion, it should be unpredictable, chaotic and lots of fun to watch.

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