And so it begins.
Earlier than anticipated, the New York Knicks have entered the offseason. They were supposed to playing for the Eastern Conference championship. They were supposed to be waging war against the Miami Heat. They were supposed to be contending for a title.
Instead, they're headed home, preparing for what is once again a pivotal offseason in the team's development.
Before they attempted to distance themselves from the disappointing shadow now cast over the Big Apple, though, they had to go through the motions of their exit interviews.
Existing only to provide the media and fans with a sense of closure, these sit-downs never answer all the questions we have. If anything, they create even more.
The Knicks' most recent session did not leave us empty-handed. There were plenty of queries they provided answers to.
But it wasn't exactly an exception either.
Impending third years (with a job) don't typically play in the NBA's summer league, but Iman Shumpert isn't your typical third year.
The summer league wasn't available prior to Shumpert's rookie campaign thanks to the lockout, and he missed last year's exhibition because of his ACL injury.
Now healthy (or close to it), he plans to participate in this summer's festivities.
Though you've got to appreciate Shump's commitment to working on his game and receiving even more coaching, you have to wonder if this is the right decision.
Shumpert also said he plans to play in Vegas Summer League, to work on his game and get more coaching.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeckNYT) May 20, 2013
His knee began to bother him against the Indiana Pacers, and putting himself in harm's way for the summer league can't sit completely well with the Knicks.
Still, the prospect of Shumpert adding even more to his already improved arsenal—that three-point shooting of his has become a weapon—is admittedly appeasing.
Tyson Chandler still isn't happy with New York's offense.
The big man previously took shots at the Knicks' failure to share the ball against the Pacers, and his tune didn't change leading into his exit interview.
Primarily valued for his defense, Chandler has a point. The Knicks are built to score. Any team that houses Carmelo Anthony (and J.R. Smith) is. And yet, they managed to eclipse 100 points in the second round against Indiana just once.
Once the playoffs reached the most critical of junctures, New York's offense went cold. That's something they'll have to try to address with little financial flexibility this summer.
Anyone who watched Carmelo Anthony during the postseason could tell that his shoulder wasn't right, and he confirmed as much.
Carmelo confirms a Daily News report that he will have his left should re-examined by doctors. "It's been bothering me since (April 15th)"— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 20, 2013
Though his shoulder wasn't enough to sideline him, it is something to monitor moving forward.
'Melo said that he will find out what kind of therapy and rehab it needs and then go from there.
Carmelo Anthony said he will have his shoulder checked and see what kind of therapy and rehab it needs.— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) May 20, 2013
The Knicks just have to be thrilled that the words "I probably need surgery" weren't uttered. Now more than ever, this franchise needs Anthony.
He is their lone superstar. Neither Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler nor J.R. Smith fits the bill of superstar sidekick, leaving the Knicks to build around 'Melo and whatever shape he's in.
His shoulder included.
Jason Kidd had a postseason to forget, and his path toward redemption may not include returning to the Knicks.
Tyson Chandler, a close buddy of Kidd's, was unsure of whether the 40-year-old would be back in orange and blue next season.
Tyson Chandler, who is close to Jason Kidd, said he's doesn't know if Kidd will be back next year. Said Kidd needs time to think. #Knicks— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) May 20, 2013
There are those who even seem to believe Kidd, who has two years remaining on his contract, will negotiate a buyout with the Knicks.
I believe Jason Kidd negotiates a buyout with Knicks. I think Marcus Camby stays and Rasheed brings his warmth and winning smile as a coach.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) May 20, 2013
I'm not going to pretend like I'm not confused. Kidd went scoreless in New York's final 10 playoff games (0-of-17 from the floor), but he was a big part of what the Knicks did during the regular season.
Obviously, his postseason performance is a red flag, but given their dire financial situation, Kidd's three-point prowess and general leadership qualities are something the Knicks could still use.
That is, unless they have something up their sleeve we don't know about.
Chris Copeland enjoyed playing for the Knicks. Like, really enjoyed it. And the Knicks enjoyed having him.
The 29-year-old rookie scoring sensation emerged as a playoff X-factor and an integral part of New York's limited offensive success.
He's set to enter restricted free agency and is someone the Knicks would like to retain. And he'd like to stay. But it isn't that simple.
Copeland: "To be here has been a dream come true, but to stay here, this place means the world to me." #Knicks— Jared Zwerling (@JaredZwerling) May 20, 2013
New York can (and likely will) extend Copeland a qualifying offer, but other teams do have the right to outbid them. The Knicks can match, but with a payroll that already exceeds $75 million next season, the numbers could prevent them from doing just that.
Will he still be donning a Knicks uniform come next season?
Only time and a handful of dollar signs will tell.
Surprised? I didn't think you'd be.
J.R. Smith can opt out of the last year of his current deal and become an unrestricted free agent, and all indications are he will.
While Smith's future with the team has been debated to no end, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year left no doubt in anyone's mind that he wanted to be back, admitting that his preference was to retire as a member of the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony backed Smith, letting it be known he wanted the Knicks to bring his volume-shooting sidekick back next season.
Re-signing Smith appears to be more of a given than anything at this point. He now has 'Melo's endorsement, and his younger brother, Chris, has already taken to Twitter and declared that both he and J.R. would be with the Knicks next season.
I will be back next season along with my big brother @therealjrsmith ... Will be a blessing to wear my Knicks uniform.. Prep for 2014 is now— Chris Smith (@3_ChrisSmith) May 19, 2013
According to the Marc Berman of the New York Post, Smith is expected to sign a four-year pact with New York valued at approximately $5 million annually after opting out. Other teams will have the opportunity to outbid the Knicks for his services, but Smith's regrettable postseason damaged his market value substantially.
If we're to believe these reports then, it seems 'Melo is fated to get his wish. And at that price, I don't blame the Knicks for granting it.
As if you didn't already know.
Carmelo Anthony has the ability to opt out of his contract at the end of next season, and though he remained adamant about not thinking about it, it has to be at the back of everyone's minds, his included.
Anthony said it would be "selfish'' to think of his opt-out after next season. Doesn't want to address what he may do.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) May 20, 2013
This should strictly represent the growth of 'Melo as a player and leader, as someone who is more concerned with his team than himself, and it does. But it's also an unsettling issue.
'Melo can leave the Knicks if he doesn't feel they are legitimate contenders following next year's crusade. He continues to say the right things, but who knows if his tune changes should New York come up short again.
Also factoring into Anthony's decision will be the Knicks' ability to get better. Again, he continues to say he believes they can, but the Knicks presently owe more than $65 million to Marcus Camby, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jason Kidd and Steve Novak through 2015. They also don't own the rights to their 2014 first-round draft pick or their next four second-round picks.
Oh BTW, the #Knicks have also traded away their 2014 1st round pick, and their 2nd round pick in 2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) May 20, 2013
Will 'Melo still be singing this team's praises next summer if they fail to advance beyond the second round and still don't have the ability to make changes?
We'll just have to wait and see.
The Knicks don't believe this is the end.
Barring unforeseen events of epic proportions, the Knicks don't have the money or assets necessary to add significant pieces to their complicated puzzle. But Carmelo Anthony doesn't care. He's still excited about what's to come.
'Melo also believes that the Knicks are still in a position to contend for a title, that they're capable of winning a championship as is.
Carmelo Anthony was asked how close the #Knicks are to winning a title. "We're right there."— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) May 20, 2013
His optimism is admirable, but his assessment of New York's situation doesn't take into account a number of other factors.
The Knicks finished second in a beaten down Eastern Conference. Rajon Rondo, Danny Granger and Derrick Rose were all lost for the entire (or most of the) season. Their quest for a title is only going to get tougher next year, and here they sit, void of the flexibility it takes to make improvements.
'Melo still has faith in his team, though. Sadly, he might be in the minority.
Courtesy of an infamous wedding toast, there is still a 6'0", 175-pound elephant in the Knicks' locker room—Chris Paul.
New York doesn't have the money to sign the unrestricted free agent outright. Quite frankly, they don't have the means to pull off a sign-and-trade either. Yet, that didn't prevent the subject from being broached.
Carmelo Anthony was asked about Paul on his way out and offered nothing more than a four-letter swear and an "I don't know."
On his way out of exit interviews, Carmelo Anthony was asked about Chris Paul signing with the Clippers. "S--t, I don't know." #Knicks— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) May 20, 2013
Well, let's not entirely true. He also urged Frank Isola of the New York Daily News not to start anything either.
Carmelo seemed a little surprised by the Chris Paul question. On his way out, he said "Don't start nothing Frank." Frank is @fisolanydn.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) May 20, 2013
While not impossible for the Knicks to obtain Paul, it's extremely unlikely. Everything involved in the process would likely have to go their way, Paul accepting a pay cut and the Los Angeles Clippers making a string of bad decisions included.
Conspiracy theories will continue to run amok because, well, this is New York. It's what they do.
Just don't expect the highly improbable to become a reality.
Nothing in the NBA is ever as it seems.
The Knicks are capped out, old and seemingly backed into a corner with no way of getting out, but that doesn't mean there won't be any changes.
Last summer, there was no way the Knicks wouldn't match any offer for Jeremy Lin, yet they wound up letting him walk. The offseason before that, New York was all in for Chris Paul before abruptly trading for Tyson Chandler. Change is always possible, and the Knicks are headed for it. In more ways than one, they're going to be significantly different than this past season.
Am I delusional? Only sometimes (twice on Sundays). Or am I maybe reading too much into the noticeable absences from the exit interviews? Perhaps.
Players who chose not to speak to media: Stoudemire, JR Smith, Kidd, Prigioni, Camby, White, Richardson, Barron. Sorta hoped we'd get Sheed.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeckNYT) May 20, 2013
Mostly, though, I'm a realist.
I won't sit here and say the Knicks will deal Stoudemire or Chandler. And I won't predict that they land Paul or anything as drastic as that. But there will be a change. After a disappointing finish like this, there has to be.
How much and what kind? We don't know. But it's coming.