For the first time in what feels like decades, the New York Knicks are heading into an offseason without the dreaded “rebuilding” word attached to the franchise.
Wednesday night’s disappointing elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks certainly left a sour taste to the end of such a surprising season — but now the question heading into the offseason is what tweaks the Knicks can make to take another step forward rather than what can be done to stop the slide?
“I think you learn from each experience,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Every year you analyze the things you did well, the things you didn’t do as well as you would like, you look at how you match up with teams in your division, your conference, the league, then you see where you may have opportunities.
“Whether that’s through the draft, free agency, trades, your own player development — all four factors play into it.”
Those will be conversations for another day, though, as Thibodeau admitted that he and his team will take “two to three weeks” to “decompress” after a hard-fought season in which the Knicks defied the odds and shed their reputation of bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference; instead finishing in fourth place and making their first playoff appearance since 2013.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time for a city that has not only starved for a competitive Knicks team but had something to hold onto during the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think for everyone going through a pandemic is not easy. I think there was great appreciation for the team,” Thibodeau said. “I think New York has always been that way. The sports fans in all [New York] sports are very knowledgeable but Knicks fans are special.”
For Thibodeau, it was a triumphant return back to New York where he once was an assistant under Jeff Van Gundy during the latter stages of the Knicks’ glory days of the late-90s. His basketball journey took him to head-coaching jobs in Chicago and Minnesota before making his way back to Madison Square Garden and appreciating the return of competent Knicks basketball even more.
“I’ve been all around the league and there’s no other place like this,” Thibodeau said. “It was great to experience… there’s great appreciation from our organization, from our players… that goes a long way, and hopefully we gave them something we could be proud of. We’re looking forward to next season. There’s a lot of work to be done but I think it’s exciting for us.”
One thing the Knicks can hang their hat on is the fact that they found a star piece of their core in Julius Randle, who revamped his game in 2021 to become an All-Star and the face of a franchise — even if he struggled during the playoffs.
“I think we’re bringing a brand of basketball back that the city could be proud of,” Randle said. “We have something to build on in the future.”
How refreshing: A Knicks team that really is headed in the right direction.
“We’re just building the foundation, building the right habits. Everyone is getting better, learning, growing, building together,” Thibodeau said. “Their attitude and approach was outstanding from last summer until the end. You couldn’t have asked more from a team and they were a joy to be around every day.
“I have great respect for the effort they put forward, their togetherness… we’ll learn and we’ll grow and we know the challenge will be greater next year.”