The New York Knicks have gone from a 54-win playoff team to a sub-.500 team on the outside looking in within the span of just one year, so there are undoubtedly plenty of questions about their makeup as a team.
While many expected the Knicks to take a step back this year, very few this side of the SCHOENE system predicted this kind of disaster would come from their few roster changes.
Besides the loss of a few veterans—who admittedly provided some much-needed leadership—New York's core is mostly unchanged from last season, making its downfall even more confusing.
As a result, it's hard to put a finger on exactly who the Knicks are, so let's take a look at the main things we still don't know about them heading into the final stretch of the regular season.
Were They Destined to Fail?
Hindsight is 20/20, but the way the Knicks have played this season has opened up questions about whether or not they really had a chance to repeat their success from 2012-13.
Most of what has made them the terrible team they are has been predictable. Perimeter defense has been nonexistent, Mike Woodson's coaching has been stubborn, spacing has been an issue with the addition of Andrea Bargnani and chemistry just isn't there without the influence of Jason Kidd and Rasheed Wallace.
All this losing has come, no less, with Carmelo Anthony doing everything in his power to lift the play of those around him, matching his 24.8 PER from last season and contributing more as a defender, rebounder and passer.
If the Knicks can be this bad with Melo (who, by the way, has never missed the playoffs in his 11-year career) playing so well, you have to ask if the rest of the Knicks' roster was ever good enough to repeat their success from last season.
At the same time, though, last season did happen. It could have been a fluke, but putting up 54 wins is nothing to scoff at, even in a weak conference. They played fantastic basketball across the board at times and did so despite a horrible cap situation, which is an achievement in itself.
It's absolutely possible that the Knicks could have at least been competitive this season. What really tipped the scale were variables, like Tyson Chandler's continued decline due to age and injury, J.R. Smith falling off after his contract extension and Iman Shumpert completely losing confidence due to trade rumors and another knee surgery.
Who's Really in Charge Here?
New York is one of the most poorly run organizations in the NBA, and it's no coincidence that its internal structure is impalpable from the outside, save for the obvious influence of James Dolan.
Pointing fingers gets particularly difficult in situations like this. Mike Woodson's rotations, for example, appear to be poor, but how much of that is his own fault if he's being pressured by Dolan and the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to go with certain lineups?
This is a coach who has previously been hailed as a defensive mastermind who improves his team's record every season, so it's difficult to believe he could be in full control of a collapse like this, which goes completely against what we know about him as a coach.
Things don't appear to be getting any more simple. Newly hired general manager Steve Mills (along with Dolan) is in the process of courting former player and head coach Phil Jackson for a role in the club's basketball operations (via ESPN), which is difficult enough to decipher as a sentence alone.
If I'm reading this right, six months after Steve Mills was hired he is now hiring someone to replace him. Not sure that's very analytical.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) March 9, 2014
Combined with the CAA, all these titles make it extremely difficult to tell who reports to who and how decisions are really made (or going to be made) on a day-to-day basis.
One thing we do know for sure, though, is that meddling owner Dolan has the final say regardless and will always tailor his decisions towards marketing and media attention, making it no surprise that he's going after a big name like Jackson for a role that he doesn't necessarily qualify for, that didn't really exist beforehand.
It's entirely plausible that Jackson could end up being a glorified consultant, hired simply to help create a sense of false hope while the Knicks continue to mire in dysfunction. The proof should be in the results, but we'll never know for sure with their secretive, confusing ways.
Are They a Playoff Team?
Luckily for the Knicks, the Eastern Conference is having one of its worst seasons in league history, meaning they have a very real chance of making the playoffs despite their record.
It's possible that despite all their struggles, the Knicks could still retain their status as a significant team in the East that would have a legit chance of competing if not for the fact they'd likely face the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the first round.
All of a sudden, New York has won four straight, making it the hottest team in the conference if you ignore the weak opposition it's faced. Looking at the upcoming schedule, which features plenty of games against fellow bottom dwellers, the Knicks have every chance of pushing themselves into the top eight, especially with the Atlanta Hawks appearing to fall in the opposite direction.
If New York manages to finish the season hot, it opens up questions as to whether or not the previous five months were simply an extended cold streak and the Knicks may indeed be much better than their record suggests. After all, if we didn't have previous evidence of them being so good, we wouldn't be talking about their struggles quite so much.
Making the playoffs again would mark the fourth straight year the Knicks were in the postseason, a far cry from the days of Isiah Thomas, which does put in perspective the disappointment of this season and suggest that things aren't quite so bleak after all.
What Does the Future Hold?
Though it's difficult to predict the future of any NBA team, the future of the Knicks is particularly uncertain. Every important figure in the organization, from the general manager to the head coach and even the star player, could be on the way out this summer, and with so few future draft picks, that leaves us with very little to go by.
As previously touched on, there is no clear structure here and no clear plan of action outside of trying to re-sign Carmelo Anthony and throwing as much money as possible at the next big free agent once Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani come off the books.
It appears, however, that there are two general paths the Knicks could go down with Dolan owning the team. If Melo leaves, their lack of draft picks should set them up for at least another two or three years of lost seasons, with New York becoming much less attractive an option for free agents without a star to build around.
If he stays, however, we can expect more of what we've seen so far in the Melo era. They'll eventually pick up a second star but will lose cap flexibility in the process and end up close, but not quite there, just like we saw last season. A championship run wouldn't be impossible if all the right dominoes fell for a season, but based on their current blueprint (or lack thereof) perennial contender status appears out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Of course, there are other variables. Assuming he joins the franchise, Jackson could excel in his new role just as he did as a head coach, convincing Melo to take a pay cut and, for once, forcing the Knicks to spend wisely with the remainder of their cap space. Of course, it's just as likely that neither person could be involved in the franchise in any form by July.
The bottom line is that the Knicks are the NBA's biggest enigma, both now and in the future. And short of a Jackson-led miracle, that isn't about to change under Dolan's regime. It's difficult to suggest just how good or bad this roster is or exactly where the franchise is headed, and that's an uncertainty fans have to be accustomed to by now.