Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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NEW YORK –– The 2010-11 Knicks season is officially over, swept away by the Boston Celtics in four games.
After Sunday’s 101-89 loss in Game 4, the Knicks still haven’t won a playoff game since April 29, 2001, a stretch of 10 straight postseason losses.
Looking forward, Knick fans know that the 2011-12 incarnation of their team will revolve around Carmelo Anthony and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire. But beyond that, a slew of questions loom.
Will Donnie Walsh return as president? Will Mike D’Antoni still be the coach next fall?
Will Chauncey Billups return as the team’s point guard? And if so, can he remain healthy for an entire season?
Other than Toney Douglas and Landry Fields, what other key players will return next season? And what new faces will enter the picture to help Anthony and Stoudemire get back to the postseason and advance past the first round?
“That’s something that as a group, as a collective, we have to come together and see what we [are] lacking, where we need to get stronger at,” Anthony said after Game 4. “I’m sure I’ll be talking to Donnie or [owner Jim] Dolan and Amar’e will be there and Chauncey will be there, just trying to figure out some ways where we can become not just a playoff team but a championship-caliber team.”
Dolan has until April 30 to exercise or decline the fourth-year option on Walsh’s contract, although Walsh emphasized Saturday his deal doesn’t run out until June 30.
He deserves to come back, given how he turned this once-moribund franchise back into a playoff team in three years by slashing payroll, shedding the unwanted contracts of the previous era and landing not only Stoudemire via free agency but Anthony through a blockbuster midseason deal that required the Knicks to give up half their roster.
Yet neither Stoudemire nor Anthony exactly gave the 70-year-old Walsh a ringing endorsement.
“I’m pretty sure the front office will handle it to the best of their ability,” Anthony said. “They have one of the greatest front offices in the NBA right now. They will do their job. I’ll let them handle that.”
Stoudemire was equally vague on his commitment to Walsh personally.
“That’s kind of out of my hands,” he said. “What happens in the front office is totally of my hands. But as players our goal is to improve and to get ready for a great year next year.”
D’Antoni, who has one year remaining on the four-year, $24 million deal he signed in 2008, was asked about his own future and whether he had done enough to be brought back.
“That’s a question for Donnie,” he cracked. “I kind of like myself.”
Stoudemire was stronger on his endorsement of D’Antoni compared to his answer about Walsh.
“Obviously, coach D’Antoni’s been great my whole career,” Stoudemire said. “I played with him in Phoenix, I played with him in New York. He’s definitely a good friend of mind. But again, our goal is to come back better as players, and I’m pretty sure coach D’Antoni would love the fact of us continuing to get better in the offseason and so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
When, and if, Dolan, Walsh and D’Antoni meet with Anthony and Stoudemire, they won’t have any shortage of topics to cover.
Billups has a $14 million team option for next season and he said prior to Game 4 that he hoped to come back for a full season.
“Yeah, sure,” he said in the locker room before Game 4. “I would love the opportunity to really try it up with these guys. Not like play 30 games after a trade. Like really have a season, have an opportunity to really get a fair shake with these guys. I would love to.”
Walsh likes what Billups, a former NBA champ and Finals MVP, offers in terms of skills and experience. He said Saturday Billups’ rash of injuries after the trade wouldn’t impact the team’s long-term thinking.
Billups could be the perfect tutor for Douglas next season and the bridge to either Chris Paul or Deron Williams beginning in 2012.
While Billups figures to be one of the team’s first priorities, there is no shortage of question marks.
Other than possibly Shawne Williams, who exactly would you bring back on this team?
The Knicks sorely lack quality big men, especially defensive-minded rim protectors. They need a shooter, or two. (Could Roger Mason have helped his cause if he had made those three fourth-quarter 3-pointers when the Knicks were making their run instead of missing them?)
They need depth and role players surrounding Anthony, Stoudemire and perhaps Billups.
They have just six players signed for next season — and two of them are Andy Rautins and Renaldo Balkman.
Another, Fields, so disappeared during the postseason — 3 of 15, seven points in the series — that the New York Police Department nearly put out a missing persons report on him.
“We just didn’t quite get enough from a lot of people,” D’Antoni said.
Boston coach Doc Rivers, a former Knick point guard, endorsed D’Antoni while preaching patience to fans.
“They’re going to be good,” he said of his former team. “I think Mike’s one of the best coaches in this game. The addition of Carmelo was a huge addition for them. And they’re just going to be able to keep building. You gotta be able to get pieces first. Having Stoudemire and Carmelo, those are two great pieces to have and they’re just going to keep adding. As long as everyone stays patient with them, it will work out.”
Stoudemire and Anthony believe this was an important first step, the team’s first postseason appearance in seven years.
“I’m excited about the upcoming seasons,” Anthony said. “We proved to a lot of people, shorthanded or not, that we’re going to go out there and compete on a night in and night out basis.
“This is the first step of something great that’s here to come in the next couple of years.”
Yet for greatness to come, the Knicks have a lot of big decisions to make, beginning with Walsh and D’Antoni and right on down the line to the last guys on the roster.
“‘The Knicks are back’ statement is definitely true,” Stoudemire said. “The league knows it now. It’s up to us to grow as a team.”
**Billups wants to return to Knicks
**’Melo: ‘I don’t want to get swept‘
**Knicks’ Walsh uncertain about future
**Injured Knicks don’t have the horses to compete
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.