In a wild, roller-coaster ride of a season, one that felt like three seasons in one, from Linsanity and Beyond, there was one undeniable result as the story came to a bitter, anticlimactic end following a five-game first-round playoff elimination by the Miami Heat.
There's no question this team underachieved and fell well short of the preseason talk of contending for a championship. But considering where things started at 8-15, and where things were at 18-24, it could have been much, much worse.
"If we didn't make the playoffs," interim coach Mike Woodson said, "it would have really been ugly."
And that might be the most positive thing to say about the 2011-12 season for the Knicks.
Among the many, many questions this franchise now faces in the offseason include extremely critical decisions to be made with the head coach, where Woodson appears to be on the verge of shedding the interim title but Phil Jackson still lingers in the hearts of desperate New Yorkers.
Another issue involves wunderkind point guard Jeremy Lin, who will be a restricted free agent and could command the entire mid-level exception, which would leave the capped-out Knicks with little else to use to upgrade the roster.
And then, of course, there's the worn-out debate regarding the team's two main stars, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, who have yet to dispel the notion that they cannot successfully co-exist in the offense. As Anthony re-emerged as a prolific scorer at the end of the season in mostly isolation sets, the injury-prone Stoudemire, who missed 13 games late in the season with a back injury, became an afterthought.
"I'm getting tired of hearing that, man," Anthony said. "I get tired of hearing, 'Can it work? Will it work?' We're here to play basketball, man. When we win, it works. When we lose, it don't work ... I get tired of hearing it. We'll figure it out. I don't think it's something that difficult to figure out. It'll get figured out."
That'll be up to Woodson (or, perhaps, Jackson) to get figured out before training camp opens in October. While Woodson, along with Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, has the Knicks playing tough defense again, it was offense that escaped this team in the playoffs against the Heat. If this team is going to attempt to talk championship, they're going to have to raise their level of play and learn to play together the way championship-caliber teams do.
"We have to concentrate, the guys that are here, coming back better," Chandler said. "We have to make sure we come back as better players."
The belief is that they will benefit more than any other team in the league with a full training camp and some long-awaited stability. But there also needs to be some urgency. These three main pieces are in the prime of their careers. The time is now to make a run at a championship that this franchise has waited to celebrate for what will be 40 years next spring.
"It's all about winning," Woodson said. "We've got a short (time) frame here, man. My clock is ticking just like a lot of these players' clocks are ticking ... We don't have a lot of time."
"Linsanity" was something that not only helped resuscitate a season on life support but created an international phenomenon that will be impossible to duplicate. The Jeremy Lin story, which began when he entered the second half of the Feb. 4 game against the Nets, took an undrafted, twice-waived guard and turned him into a star. He had 25 points off the bench to lead the Knicks to a victory that elevated him to the starting point guard role and his heroics sparked a seven-game winning streak and brought the Knicks back to .500 at 15-15.
Though "Linsanity" provided a desperately-needed jolt midway through the season, it wasn't until Mike Woodson took over as interim head coach on March 14 that the Knicks really got it turned around. The team was six games under .500 and outside of the playoff bracket when Mike D'Antoni stepped down. The coaching change shook the team in a positive way and resulted in a five-game winning streak. Woodson led the Knicks to an 18-6 finish, which was enough to clinch a playoff berth in the second-to-last week of the regular season.
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