Leaving Las Vegas

And so I hand the microphone back to Tina Cervasio and scurry back to the cozy confines of the studio. When we reconvene this fall, once the humidity has subsided and the new season is ready to begin, everything as you remember it will be back in place. Well, almost everything. While old friends such as Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas will be back in orange-and-blue, others such as Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields will not.

It was here, in Las Vegas, where the Knicks’ transformation took place and the foundation for the 2012-13 season was set. We were here for the NBA Summer League, which is typically a showcase for the future. But the Knicks Summer League team, and the games it played, went mostly overlooked as the urgency of the present — and the pressure to win a championship in the 40th anniversary of the last Knicks title — took precedence.

It was Camby and Jason Kidd who first promoted the idea of contending for a championship.

“Our goal is to try to win a championship next season,” Kidd said.
“Hopefully,” Camby said, “I can end my career here in New York with a championship.”

It was also in the words of Amar’e Stoudemire, who usually doesn’t shy from hyperbole, and once again channeled his inner-Ewing.

“We have to think,” he said, “anything less than a championship is a wasted season.”

Stoudemire arrived looking as fit as he usually does (15 pounds lighter) and seeming far less conflicted than last season, when he arrived at training camp trying to convince everyone he was ready to play (it was obvious in his decidedly below-the-rim performances that he was not). He has been training twice a day since the end of the season. Next month, he’ll spend a few weeks with The Post Whisperer, Hakeem Olajuwon, in Houston.

Knicks-Rockets has been a theme all summer, hasn’t it?

Stoudemire, who is well aware that many are starting to dismiss him as an All-Star caliber player, told me he isn’t carrying a chip on his shoulder. “No,” he said, “it’s a boulder.”

Already, he and Felton are reconnecting as basketball soulmates. Felton sounded off on his growing number of critics while joining the broadcast on MSG Network, vowing to return to form next season with the Knicks, which he considered a homecoming.

“That’s all I’m hearing from everybody, ‘Oh he wasn’t in shape last year’,” Felton said. “I played in the league seven years, this will be eight, and I came out of shape one year and that’s all everybody wants to talk about.

“They don’t talk about what you do good, they talk about when you do something bad. In this game, at this level, you have to take the good with the bad. So if that’s what everybody wants to talk about, I look forward to shutting everybody’s mouth.”

This will be an interesting training camp for the Knicks. A team filled with veterans looking for some form of redemption, whether it’s Carmelo Anthony (“tired of being blamed” for Lin’s offer sheet not being matched), Stoudemire, Felton, Kidd or even Pablo Prigioni, who will be the NBA’s oldest rookie at 35 years old. A team that knows the clock has not only started, it’ll already be in a countdown once the season begins because at an average age of 31, the window of opportunity to make a championship run is essentially a porthole.

As for the summer league team? They didn’t win a single game and perhaps the good news there is none of the players on the roster figure to have a major impact on Mike Woodson‘s rotation this season. Perhaps James White, who appeared in three games and mostly worked to get a good sweat, will emerge as a wing defender off the bench. Perhaps Chris Copeland, who had moments where he shows some offensive flash, will earn one of the remaining two spots on the roster out of training camp.

As we go into August, when the NBA finally goes dormant (and we watch Melo, Tyson Chandlerand USA Basketball in the Olympics), the Knicks will see what names emerge from the free agency scrap heap. Randy FoyeMatt Barnes? Sonny Weems? Mo Evans? Perhaps another veteran wing player is waived? That remains to be seen.

Until then, however, we depart Las Vegas with a better focus on what the 2012-13 Knicks will be. Come October, we’ll begin to consider what they can become.

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