Things are looking up for the New York Knicks, but the ceiling is only so high. If you dig below the surface level of the impressive trio that the Knicks are set to throw out once more during the 2012-2013 season, the outlook isn't exactly positive.
In fact, the Knicks salary-cap mess is shaping up to be worse than the rock-bottom of the Knicks' organizational history: the Isiah Thomas Era.
Zeke's run as the President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks was a complete and utter disaster. At one point, he had a payroll unmatched by any team in the league and still finished with a worse record than everyone but the Portland Trail Blazers.
He acquired Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Zach Randolph, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, among others. None of them worked out.
Thomas' reign in N.Y. will go down as one of the worst basketball management jobs in history.
And yet, the current situation might still end up even worse.
In the NBA, there is one winner and 29 losers every year. If a team doesn't win in the NBA Finals, it's almost irrelevant where they finished in the standings.
The Knicks are a playoff team right now, but they aren't true title contenders. Between Amar'e Stoudemire's declining health and effectiveness, Tyson Chandler's limitations and Carmelo Anthony's ball-stopping style of play, it's unrealistic to think that they'd take down the Miami Heat in a best-of-7 situation.
Led by Melo, New York won its first playoff game since 2001 against the Heat last season, but they still have a long way to go to truly compete. The Knicks might win another playoff game during the 2013 NBA Playoffs, but they're going to be hard pressed to win more than just a single series, at best.
Remaining bogged down in upper-level mediocrity is the worst place to be in the NBA. There's too much talent to justify blowing up the team, but it's too hard to suddenly improve.
The Knicks are plagued by salary-cap issues right now and unable to add another crucial piece. Unless Raymond Felton suddenly becomes one of the best point guards in the world, they don't have the money to add another difference maker.
What is New York's ceiling?
However, unlike Isiah's Knicks, this team isn't stuck at the bottom of the totem pole with a chance to either sign a free agent who actually works out or use a top draft pick on a potential franchise-changer.
New York isn't going to move forward without taking a few steps backwards and trading away one of the better players on the roster.
Despite their inevitably better record, this current version of the Knicks is set up to be even more disappointing than the previous one.