For at least a few days, there won’t be much relief from the frustration and disappointment of missing the playoffs. That’s one of the most bitter pills for an NBA franchise to swallow.
The Knicks had high expectations heading into this season. Carmelo Anthony, fresh off winning a third Olympic gold medal, was primed to get the Knicks back into the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Kristaps Porzingis, coming off a sensational rookie season, was a year stronger and wiser.
The Knicks added several elite free agents.
And Joakim Noah, a rugged, intense center, who possesses excellent passing skills, was going to take the triangle offense to the next level.
It didn’t work out as planned, but Knicks Nation can look forward with reason for tempered optimism. A Knicks team, that was all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, shellacked a Detroit Pistons team that is in the heat of the playoff hunt, 109-95, Monday night at The Garden.
“Guys, they keep playing, keep fighting,” coach Jeff Hornacek said.
That fight is a terrific foundation on which to build. And there are more concrete pieces in place to suggest there won’t be a premature ending to the 2017-18 season.
Porzingis and rookie Willy Hernangomez, give the Knicks a terrific young frontcourt duo that can anchor this team for the next decade. Hernangomez scored a career-high 24 points in the Knicks recent loss to the Spurs.
And Anthony, who is about to conclude his 14th NBA season, should benefit from an offseason that doesn’t include a commitment to USA Basketball.
Anthony continues to show his determination to be the linchpin of getting the Knicks back. Despite missing the last previous two games with knee soreness, he returned to the lineup for Monday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
He scored 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting with five assists, three rebounds and three steals.
“It was kind of a must-win for the team morale,” Anthony said.
Anthony was one of four Knicks in double figures. Rose’s 27 points led the way and Porzingis added 25. KP was dazzling, adding eight rebounds, three block shots, three assists and two steals.
The Knicks should return several other quality players.
Lance Thomas, who battled injuries, has proved to be a tenacious defender. Mindaugas Kuzminskas, the rookie out of Lithuania, has shown some nifty offensive skills. Justin Holiday adds an endless supply of energy.
Kyle O’Quinn added 6.2 points on 52.7-percent shooting and 5.5 rebounds, all of which are an improvement on his career averages of 5.4 points on 50.3-percent shooting and 4.5 boards.
Hornacek has begun the process of evaluating what might work in the future. In a recent loss at Portland, he started three rookies – Hernangomez, Kuzminskas and Baker – the first time New York has done that in 11 seasons.
And then there’s the chance to add big-time talent in the NBA Draft. As many fans saw for themselves over the last two weeks as the NCAA Tournament dominated the sports scene, there is an astonishing glut of young talent available in this year’s draft.
UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, who has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd, has announced he will enter the draft. He might be the best of an extremely deep point guard class that could be even deeper if Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and N.C. State’s Dennis Smith declare for the draft as expected.
Frank Ntilikina of France is another intriguing point guard prospect.
Duke’s 6-foot-8 forward Jayson Tatum already has announced he will enter the draft. Tatum, Kentucky’s Malik Monk, and Josh Jackson of Kansas, perhaps the top overall college freshman, are all expected to be high draft choices, should they choose to leave school.
An addition of one of those elite prospects would certainly add to the Knicks core. The group should be familiar with Hornacek, who is completing his first season in New York.
Does the sting of not making the playoffs make one want to wince? Of course. But the Knicks might look back on the 2016-17 season as the one that laid the foundation for success in 2017-18 and beyond.
“We don’t want to end the season on a really horrible note and take that into the summer,” Hornacek said.