In late December, then-coach Mike D'Antoni said the New York Knicks had enough talent to compete for an NBA title.
It seemed like a stretch at the time. And it was.
As it turned out, they couldn't even win a playoff series.
But a lack of talent wasn't the only issue in the first round against the Miami Heat. Injuries (one self-inflicted), illness and an inability to adjust to Miami's defense all hurt the Knicks.
All in all, the team's shortcomings against the Heat highlighted several key issues that need to be addressed in the offseason.
Here are the five most pressing:
1. CAN CARMELO AND AMARE PLAY TOGETHER?
They say you need at least two stars to win a title in the NBA. But what if those stars can't play together? That's the situation the Knicks face with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. New York is 32-41 when Anthony and Stoudemire share the floor, including 1-7 in the postseason. The performance in Game 4 aside, Anthony shoots better when Stoudemire is on the bench because he has room to create. On the flip side, Stoudemire seems to thrive in an offense predicated on ball movement, while Anthony is at his best in isolation. Is there a happy medium? Mike Woodson seemed to find it when he coached the Knicks to a 6-1 record with Jeremy Lin, Stoudemire and Anthony all in the lineup. Can that be replicated over 82 games? If not, is it time to blow up the Anthony-Stoudemire experiment?
2. WHO'S THE COACH?
Mike Woodson produced one of the best stop-gap coaching performances in recent NBA history this year. He took over a Knicks team in the midst of a six-game losing streak and led it to the playoffs, going 18-6 to close out the regular season. But Woodson's club mostly struggled in the playoffs, losing four games to the Heat by an average of 18 points.
Does this affect his candidacy for the Knicks' coaching job next season? Of course. But is it enough of a red flag that the Knicks should go after outside candidates such as Phil Jackson or John Calipari? That's a question the front office will have to answer in the coming weeks. Woodson has shown he can get this club to play defense, but his ability to make adjustments on offense in the playoffs left something to be desired.
3. RE-SIGN LIN?
Jeremy Lin produced the most compelling story of this lockout-shortened season. He emerged as an end-of-the-bench afterthought to lead the Knicks to seven straight wins as the team's starting point guard, single-handedly saving their season.
Lin will be a restricted free agent this summer. Thanks to a clause in the CBA named after Gilbert Arenas, the Knicks can match any offer made to Lin. So he's a mortal lock to be re-signed. But with Steve Nash primed to test free agency, there's a school of thought out there that the Knicks should let Lin walk and sign Nash, matching a win-now team with a win-now point guard.
However, Lin's effect on the Knicks' bottom line, in the form of marketing deals and merchandise sales, is something the organization won't ignore. So you can expect Lin to be in a Knicks uniform next season. In addition to bringing back Lin, the Knicks need to invest in a solid backup at point guard.
The options on the current roster are flawed in one way or another.
Baron Davis will be out at least 12 months with a knee injury. Toney Douglas hasn't shown the instincts necessary to play point guard in the NBA, and it seems like 33-year-old Mike Bibby doesn't have enough left in the tank to fill the void.
4. WHAT TO DO AT SHOOTING GUARD?
Iman Shumpert's injury created a quandary for the Knicks at shooting guard. Shumpert underwent surgery to repair a left ACL and meniscus tear last week. He is expected to miss six to eight months. So the Knicks will need a stop-gap replacement for Shumpert for at least the early portion of next season.
Can Landry Fields be that guy? He's a restricted free agent this summer. Given his inconsistent play since the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Knicks might let him walk. The other option at shooting guard is J.R. Smith. But Smith's contract with the Knicks contains a $2.5 million player option for next season. Smith likely will decline that option and test free agency, because the $2.5 million salary is believed to be below his market value.
So the Knicks might have to go outside the organization to find a shooting guard to fill in for Shumpert.
5. RE-SIGN NOVAK?
Steve Novak turned into a cult figure of sorts this season by hitting a league-leading 47 percent of his 3-point attempts. He was third in the league in makes (133), knocking down 2.5 per game. Along the way, Novak turned into one of the most important pieces of the Knicks' second unit. But the sharpshooter's weaknesses were exposed against the top defensive teams in the league.
Miami limited him to just 12 points in the postseason by face guarding him for five games. Chicago employed the same strategy to equal success in the regular season.
Of course, that blemish on Novak's record doesn't mean the Knicks shouldn't retain him. It just means he needs to work on shooting off screens and off the dribble in the offseason. To re-sign Novak, the Knicks probably will have to get creative, most likely dipping into one of their exceptions, because Novak will command more than the veteran's minimum on the open market.