Well New York Knicks fans, for better or worse, this is it.
These Knicks captivated us, bringing back magic to the Garden that hasn't been seen since the Clinton administration. But they seemed to hit a wall against the Pacers—Indiana took them out of their game, pushed them around and got under their skin (so much for veteran leadership) and watched them unravel.
It's hard to believe that this team underachieved, that the ceiling is significantly higher than what we saw this season.
New York is what we saw: a good team, a contending team, but not a championship team. It's clearly a couple of pieces away, and those pieces don't seem to be attainable in the near future.
Given the rapid decline of Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony needs a supplementary star, a reliable second contributor. And as much as we've embraced him (and vice versa), that can't be J.R. Smith. For all the talk of how he had proved his doubters wrong, he proved once again during these playoffs that he cannot be entirely trusted—probably ever.
As much as New York has grown to love Tyson Chandler (this past six-game aberration notwithstanding), the Knicks sacrificed a chance at signing another max contract player when they signed him. Now they find themselves hamstrung financially without any real movable assets.
The Knicks aren't going to blow up their core—'Melo, Amar'e and Tyson aren't going anywhere. And outside of that, what on this roster can serve as a bargaining chip? What will be the return for Steve Novak or Jason Kidd?
The only movable asset would seem to be Iman Shumpert, and after the strides he made this year and his importance to the team, is that something the Knicks would really be comfortable with?
New York will be a non-factor in free agency, and so all Glen Grunwald has to work with is the $3 million mid-level exception and a middling draft pick in a historically weak pool of players. Mike Woodson can talk about improvement all he wants, but that doesn't seem very likely—not when you're relying on a core of guys all 30 and up (Carmelo will be 29-and-a-half by the time next season starts).
Put simply, the Knicks are only getting older, and they don't seem to be able to get much better.
This team gave us everything it had, taking us on one hell of a ride. Which is why it seemed like such a bittersweet symphony, the swansong of a group we've hardly gotten to know.
This team has definite holes—a lack of any inside scoring, youth on the wing, replacements at the point for Kidd and (probably) Pablo Prigioni—and lacks the means to remedy them. Grunwald has shown himself to be a quality front office mind; he just doesn't have any bullets left in his chamber.