The players were already approaching it this way, but now it's official: The New York Knicks of January are not coming back. On Thursday, the team announced that Julius Randle will have surgery on his injured right shoulder and be reevaluated in five months.

Randle, according to SNY's Ian Begley, is devastated. And why wouldn't he be? In Randle's 10-year career, he has never been on a better team. From Jan. 1 until Jan. 27, the day that he dislocated his shoulder, the Knicks went 14-2 and outscored opponents by 16.5 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage-time minutes, according to Cleaning The Glass. In their first game after acquiring OG Anunoby, Randle scored an efficient 39 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Days later, Randle couldn't buy a bucket and they blew out the Philadelphia 76ers (with Joel Embiid) anyway. Two days before the injury, New York beat the defending champion Denver Nuggets by 38 points.

How devastated, then, should the Knicks be? That depends. New York has been decent (15-14, average offense, above-average defense) since Jan. 27, but, in all but three of those games, they were without Anunoby, who had surgery on his elbow in February. They won all three of the games in which Anunoby played.

Anunoby's status going forward is murky. He returned to the lineup on March 12, but has missed New York's past eight games. Initially, the team listed him as out due to right elbow injury management; lately, the designation has been right elbow tendinopathy. SNY described it as a "wait-and-see situation," but, with just a week and a half left in the regular season, time isn't on the Knicks' side.

Until Anunoby is ruled out for the remainder of the season, it remains possible to be hopeful about it. He's not nearly the shot creator that Randle is, but, because he can guard all five positions and space the floor, his return would solidify the team in a different way. "They're pretty clearly big or small without him," Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse said weeks ago. Lately, they've been small, with the 6-foot-4 Josh Hart starting at 4 and Jalen Brunson and Miles McBride sharing the backcourt. Before that, they were big, with Precious Achiuwa starting next to Isaiah Hartenstein in the frontcourt, but they haven't gone back to that look in the starting lineup since Nurse's Sixers held them to 73 points. Anunoby, with his strength, speed and switchability, is exactly the kind of player who ties lineups together and can help a team overcome the loss of a go-to scorer.

One could argue that, as long as Anunoby returns, taking Randle out of the equation simplifies things for New York as it approaches the playoffs. It has spent the last couple of months adjusting to life without its 24-points-per-game, 29%-usage No. 2 option. Like most teams in this sort of situation, the Knicks have emphasized ball movement and increased their 3-point volume. They've diversified their attack, putting Brunson in more off-ball actions, getting Hartenstein back to his playmaking roots and unleashing DiVincenzo like never before. Reintegrating Randle might have been complicated, particularly if he were pushing himself to play at less than his best.

With Randle out of the short-term picture, there is a bit more clarity. If Anunoby doesn't come back, playoff expectations will be relatively low, and that January run will remain both a painful reminder of what might have been and a source of optimism going into 2024-25. If Anunoby does come back, maybe he can elevate the team by allowing everybody else to slide into more appropriate roles. New York doesn't have as much firepower as some teams with similar records, but, with Anunoby, it can be dominant on defense, own the boards and space the floor for Brunson. If the shooters get hot at the right time, the Knicks could be dangerous in the same way that last season's Miami Heat were.

Ideally, though, a healthy Randle would have relieved some pressure on Brunson, picked his spots on offense and given New York more ways to draw two defenders to the ball. While he was sidelined, the Knicks got Mitchell Robinson back from injury and traded for Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. In theory, with Randle in the fold, they could have been a deeper and even scarier team than they were in January, one that had more than a puncher's chance against anybody in the East. Now that dream is dead, at least until next season.