Office debate for you: Can this season be considered a success if the Knicks lose tonight? On one hand: Hey, they finally won that first playoff game in eleven years, with a roster absolutely ravaged by injuries. On the other hand: Uh, they went down 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. That meets everybody's expectations? Who can forget all those "Let's get ONE playoff win!" chants that dominated the Garden this season? You! Us! We! Now!
Yeah! Who's with us?
So, suffice it to say, after the Knicks' improbable, stirring, and surely futile win on Sunday afternoon, there's a lot of rationalizing going on among Knicks fans. You can build off one playoff win, it goes. This is forward progress. Again, when you compare that to the Lost Isiah Decade, that sounds great, but this is supposed to be a serious contender. A vaguely hungover-looking Heat team allowed a Gentleman's Sweep; this is not the foundation of dynasties.
This is particularly true because, well, this is still not a young team. Amar'e Stoudemire, as has been evidenced all season, is rapidly aging, Tyson Chandler is still great but is about to hit his thirties and has been injury-prone in the past, and while Carmelo's in his prime, well, even Carmelo at peak capacity needs help. (Whether he chooses to accept that help remains an open question.) And some of the weapons this year came cheaply in a way they won't in the future: J.R. Smith has already said he'll hit free-agency, and fellow free agent Steve Novak will likely demand more than the $992,680 he's earning this year. The Knicks don't have a first-round pick this year, and they'll lose another one in 2014 (and probably have to swap picks with Denver in 2016), and they'll surely have to use their mid-level exemption (if not more) on Jeremy Lin this off-season. That doesn't leave much room, or money, for improvements. Unless you count Phil Jackson.
That's to say: It's possible that this year's team, the 2011-12 version, was, in fact, the best Knicks team we'll see in a while, the one that had the best collection of talent, talent it might have only been possible to assemble in this lockout season. (You're not getting J.R. Smith or Jeremy Lin at this year's price ever again. Okay, maybe when they're both 50.) Of course, the injuries were murderous for the Knicks this year — we can all imagine what might have been — but history won't care about that. It'll just note that the Knicks went down in five games, and Carmelo Anthony didn't Get It Done.
So, as the Knicks prepare to tip off tonight, we understand why this game might feel like a consolation prize, a chance to say good-bye to a fun team and a loopy season, a progression from last year, a sign for what needs to be changed in the future. But the future is a funny thing. In 2001, after the Knicks lost 3-2 to the Raptors, Allan Houston said, "We want to win a championship. And we have the talent to do it." The Knicks wouldn't win another playoff game until last Sunday. These playoff games are tough to come by, folks. The Knicks and their fans don't seem to have a major sense of urgency about tonight's game. Perhaps they should.