If Carmelo Anthony is going to return to New York after he inevitably tests the free-agent market following this season, the Knicks may need to do more than fizzle out in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Those are the stakes for this team entering the 2013-14 season, like it or not.
At least the key components of last year's Atlantic Division champions are back.
Alongside Anthony are 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. Meanwhile, the additions of Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace were two savvy moves that improved the depth of the rotation.
Here are three predictions for the upcoming season, which begins tonight against the Bucks at the Garden.
Iman will become 'The Man'
Iman Shumpert's role will expand this season, and he's got all the tools to make the most of it.
The third-year guard has the talent to be the best defensive player on the team, and that's not a slight against former Defensive Player of the Year Chandler. That alone will keep him in the lineup even when he's struggling with his shot.
But his shot hasn't been an issue during the preseason. He shot 51.1% from the field in six games. If that carries over even partially into the regular season, he could turn into one of the league's most improved players.
Anthony won't repeat as scoring champ
It's not that he isn't capable of repeating. Rather, he should have more help on offense than he did a year ago.
Bargnani's main contributions are as a scorer, while World Peace is no slouch himself when called upon. Even first-round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. will pitch in.
They -- along with Smith, Felton and Shumpert -- will make life easier for Anthony more often than not, allowing the star to focus more of his energy on the other end of the floor.
Amar'e will play at least two-thirds of the time
This is a bold forecast, indeed. Amar'e Stoudemire has fallen short of that feat four times in his 11-year career.
He's missed 72 of a possible 148 games over the past two seasons and spent the offseason recovering from another in a long line of knee surgeries.
He claims to be healthy entering tonight's opener, but Knicks fans must be forgiven if they have trouble believing it before they see it.
Assuming it's true and he makes it through the regular season, he should be able to further lighten the scoring load.
X-FACTOR: ANDREA BARGNANI
Bargnani could turn into the missing piece to the Knicks' championship hopes or join the list of duds who've donned blue and orange.
The 28-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick was acquired from the Raptors over the summer in a trade that send draft picks and scraps (Steve Novak, Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson) back to Toronto. It's a clear short-term upgrade, but one the team had hoped would provide more immediate results.
Ideally, Bargnani was to join the starting lineup and provide scoring to make teams pay for focusing all their attention on Anthony. Through seven preseason games -- all starts -- it's clear the Italian big man isn't on the same page with his new teammates.
Mostly, his matador defense isn't doing much to earn coach Mike Woodson's praise. That has opened the door for World Peace to possibly supplant him in the starting lineup.
Bargnani will need to prove he's not a defensive liability to earn his minutes. If he can't, then these Knicks won't be much better than last year's.
If the Knicks can remain relatively healthy, they will certainly win at least 50 games again. But that's far from a guarantee with Stoudemire and Chandler on the roster. More troubling news: The East just got a lot more top-heavy after the Nets' overhaul and the Bulls getting a healthy Derrick Rose back. It's more likely the Knicks are either a No. 4 or 5 seed and must to go through Miami to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. Sorry, but they aren't ready to beat the Heat yet.