MILWAUKEE -- The words no Knicks fan wanted to hear came out of Carmelo Anthony's mouth during the last sentence he uttered Sunday afternoon before exiting into the cold, rainy grayness that ushered in the first day of spring in Wisconsin.
"It might take [until] next season," Anthony said after the Knicks had their lowest-scoring quarter of the season -- putting just nine points on the scoreboard over the first 12 minutes -- in a 100-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that wrapped up what can best be called a lost weekend.
After noting that the core of the team has been together for only three weeks, Anthony was asked how close the team is to being on the same page.
"We're almost there. If everybody gets 100 percent on the same page, it might take [until] next season," Anthony said. "Right now, in this short period of time, we've got to come together as a unit and just check out what we're going to do, and do it. As far as everybody jelling and the chemistry clicking to where we want it to be, it's going to take some time."
So there you have it, 15 games into the new era that began with an atmosphere of euphoria, the timeline for achieving success has been publicly adjusted by the player who is expected to take the Knicks to the next level.
With the Knicks already knowing that they are headed to the playoffs -- something they've known since the day the big trade went down -- the urgency that would come with fighting for a playoff spot is just not present.
And as a result, the Knicks are not only unpredictable and inconsistent, they are flat.
"We're a ways from where we need to be," Chauncey Billups said. "We have got a ways to go on both ends getting familiar."
If you ever wanted to see flatness manifest itself into a 12-minute window into the soul (or lack thereof) of a team, you'd need to look no further than the first quarter of this game.
The Knicks weren't sloppy in that first period, committing just one turnover. They weren't passive, outrebounding Milwaukee on the offensive boards 3-1. They just looked bad, missing 21 of 25 shots as they fell behind by 23 points to create a deep hole they had to spend the rest of the day digging out of.
Dig out they did, getting themselves back in contention before halftime and twice pulling within one point in the third quarter.
But again they couldn't get the stops they needed down the stretch (the Bucks scored on eight of their final nine possessions), again a referee's discretion did not help them (Anthony was called for an offensive foul on a jump shot with 4:06 remaining, two days after he failed to get a whistle when Chris Wilcox of the Pistons appeared to foul him on a last-minute shot), and again they played down to the level of their opponent in dropping to 7-8 since the trade, remaining in seventh place in the East as they head into their first post-trade matchup with the Boston Celtics on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Chemistry is an issue. Cohesiveness is an issue. The center spot is a major issue, and the lack of any kind of reliable depth is an issue, too.
And then there is the issue of whether Anthony is refusing to buy into coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, something Amare Stoudemire signaled was happening after Friday night's loss at Detroit when Anthony bolted from the locker room and headed straight for the team bus without saying anything about his 0-for-5 fourth quarter and his 6-point performance.
"That was just one night, man. I don't really focus on that night. It happened. Whatever happened, happened. Tonight, it is what it is," Anthony said. "My thing is just to go out there and just really focus on trying to do what I have to do within the system, within the offense. And I never want guys on our team to feel like I'm going out of the system to get what I have to get, and do what I have to do. My thing is to focus on getting the system down pat. This is the system we'll be running from here on out, and I just want to learn it and become great at it."
The system produced three 20-point performances as Stoudemire scored 25, Anthony had 23 and Billups 21 before he fouled out, but the pace of play was again slower than the speed D'Antoni would prefer, and the inability to get a stop down the stretch was another chapter of a recurring theme.
"We're frustrated with trying to finish games off and trying to win and all that, but I would think other than being frustrated, [the team's morale] is good. We're going to try to get this done," D'Antoni said. "We'll get it done, it's just a matter of being calm and knowing our problems and working through."
And what exactly was D'Antoni's "it"?
The "it" he's certain they're going to get done?
"Playing well. That's the it," D'Antoni said. "It's up and down, we've had some good games, we've hit a little stretch here where we're pressing and not playing well."
That about sums it up, and that is not the type of summation the Knicks wanted to have when they had a 15-game body of work behind them.
As Anthony said, it may take until next season.
That is not what he was saying when he arrived, but circumstances have forced him to temper his expectations.
At this point, merely playing a competitive series in the first round of the playoffs may be as good as it gets for these Knicks. But the possibility of it getting worse cannot be discounted, either. The final 13 games of the season will be telling.