Josh NewmanAfter 54 wins, an Atlantic Division title and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, expectations were raised for the Knicks this season.
Those expectations have not panned out as the Knicks are playing out the string, including a 100-89 victory on Sunday evening over the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden.
With the season going as it has, one has to wonder if those initial preseason expectations off last season were too high.
Amar’e Stoudemire is not one of those people asking that right now.
“It should’ve been a little bit higher,” Stoudemire said before the game, in which he finished with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting. “On paper, we might be the best team in the league. We got great players on this team, we’ve accomplished so much, we just couldn’t put it together.”
“It’s not even real for me right now,” said Carmelo Anthony, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in his career. “We still have two games left, but it hasn’t set in yet, not at all. It’s hard to accept that. It’s hard to be happy in these times, it’s just a hard situation right now.”
Given the Knicks can finish no better than 37-45, Stoudemire’s comments may seem silly, but in his defense, the 12th-year pro is forever optimistic, not only in regards to basketball, but in regards to everything.
Before Stoudemire spoke, Knicks head coach Mike Woodson was peppered pregame with questions about not making the playoffs. Predictably, his take was a little more level-headed.
“You can point the fingers in a lot of directions, and I’m not gonna sit here and air that out,” Woodson said. “At the end of the day, I’m the coach and I didn’t get it done. It’s just that simple. There are a lot of factors that came behind it, but you can’t sit here and complain about it now. We didn’t get it done and being the coach.”
“I just apologize to the fans because they paid their hard-earned money to see us play and we didn’t come into this season expecting this. We dug a hole early and we tried to make a major push to get in here at the end and we just didn’t get it done.”
The Knicks were left for dead on March 3 when they fell to a season-high 19 games under .500 following a 96-85 loss at the Detroit Pistons. To their credit, the Knicks circled the wagons to win 12 of their next 15 to get back into the race for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with the Atlanta Hawks.
In the end, digging themselves an early hole in the standings was too much to overcome to be playing basketball into May. A Hawks win over the Miami Heat on Saturday evening clinched that final playoff spot and eliminated the Knicks from contention.
“I stayed optimistic throughout that entire run figuring that there was still an opportunity to make the playoffs,” Stoudemire said. “With the final three games, we’ve gotta find some type of motivation to get us going so that we can stay positive and at least end the season on a good note.”
With Phil Jackson having been introduced last month as new President of Basketball Operations, changes are likely afoot this offseason. What those changes will be exactly remains a mystery, but two things in particular are going to grab everyone’s attention.
The wide assumption is that the Knicks will move on from Woodson while also looking to secure Anthony, who has said publicly that he will opt-out of the final year of his 3-year, $64 million contract and test the free agent market.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, Anthony can re-sign with the Knicks for five years and $129 million. If he goes elsewhere, the maximum he could be paid drops to $96 million over four years.
“It’s hard for me to even think about that, it’s hard for me to even think past tonight at this moment,” said Anthony after scoring 17 points in just 27 minutes. “For me, it’s just cloudy. I’ve never been in this situation before, I don’t even know what to say about this situation, so the only thing for me is to try to stay positive.”
“It has nothing to do with the way this season went. Even if we had the greatest season, I would probably still be in that situation. It is what it is.”
With his future up in the air, it’s worth noting that for all of the issues the Knicks have had this season, Anthony was not one of them.
Entering Sunday, Anthony was averaging 27.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and was shooting 45.2 percent from the field.
He has been hampered by an injured right shoulder since April 2. He has played through it, but said after the game that with the team mathematically eliminated, he may have an MRI performed in the next day or two.
“One thing I can say, you can’t point at him because he’s been there all year,” Woodson said. “He’s had a hell of a season for us.”