It is over. A Knicks season begun with the goal of defeating the Miami Heat in the playoffs, and an opening game in which the Knicks did that and then some, ended Saturday night in Indiana one game and seven points short of even facing the Heat.
If Carmelo Anthony is to do what Patrick Ewing never did for the Knicks, and lead his team past the greatest player of his generation, LeBron James as the new Michael Jordan, it will have to happen some other year.
But we've seen enough renderings of 1990s basketball history to know that Anthony will take the blame for falling short this season. Never mind that he scored 39 points in 41 minutes Saturday night against a Pacers defense that had very little else to defend.
The real reason the Knicks' season ended Saturday night is that the team around Anthony bore little resemblance to the one that began the season 18-5, or, incredibly, even to the one that ended the season 16-2.
That November Knicks team received throwback work from Jason Kidd, who won games with his intelligence and stretched defenses with his three-point shooting. That team's point guard, Raymond Felton, played like a one-man validation for letting Jeremy Lin go. That team, for goodness sake, thrived on Ronnie Brewer's perimeter shooting.
So sure, that 18-5 start was ephemeral. The real question is how true that was of the 16-2 finish.
Anthony, given proper support, had the greatest month of his career, capping what was an outstanding season. Defenses couldn't be expected to stop both Anthony and J.R. Smith, who finally, 600 games into his N.B.A. career, managed to consistently attack the basket, draw fouls, with a shooting percentage more appropriate for a player with his skills.
And a half-dozen three-point shooters stood ready to punish defenses for too much focus on Anthony and J.R., from Chris Copeland and Steve Novak to Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni and a revitalized Felton. Kenyon Martin played the part of Tyson Chandler.
How much of that disappeared by the playoffs? Basically all of it. Smith, famously, reverted to his worst self following his Game 3 ejection in the first round against Boston. Chandler, playing through a neck injury and who knows what else, wasn't a factor. Felton, so good against Boston, disintegrated against Indiana. Novak's back acted up, coach Mike Woodson turned to Copeland a bit too late, and Jason Kidd had the worst shooting slump I can remember anyone having.
It took Shumpert remembering he could shoot threes to get the Knicks back into Game 6, despite Anthony's heroics. And a drained Anthony faltered in the fourth, while nobody stepped forward to help him.
So, what now? Anthony returns, of course. A full season of the Iman Shumpert who showed up for the playoffs is a perfect complement to Anthony, playing the three to Anthony's four. And… what else?
This was the year for the Knicks to win the self-imposed Lin-for-Felton swap, Felton's veteran presence in exchange for Lin's potential; instead, the two had virtually identical seasons, and Lin will be just 25 next year, Felton 29. The Knicks know what they have, or should: an inconsistent performer who averages out to average at point guard. Don't bet against the Lin grumbles getting louder. The Mo Cheeks for Rod Strickland deal looked okay for the Knicks in Year One thanks to a playoff win over Boston, too.
J.R. Smith will likely opt out of his deal, and what he'll get in free agency is as mysterious as what he'd provide the Knicks all season. Will a team reward him for that quarter season where he looked like an N.B.A. All Star? Will the Knicks want the roller coaster back? They hit upon a formula that made them nearly unbeatable with Smith and Anthony, and the chance to find a similar second scorer, given their cap limits, is pretty slim.
One of the biggest decisions will be figuring out if Tyson Chandler was injured and can recover this offseason, or if Tyson Chandler just passed his sell-by date. Unlike Amar'e Stoudemire, likely immovable with that contract, Chandler could be dealt if the Knicks were so inclined.
But then, who plays center? We saw the answer at the end of this year: scrap heap pickup Kenyon Martin, and then, when Martin fouled out, effectively nobody. A first-round draft pick that Isiah Thomas somehow didn't squander eight years ago for Eddy Curry could provide help: the last time they drafted, they got Shumpert.
But maybe it is ridiculous to try and predict the Knicks anyway. Two of their biggest contributors in the Indiana series were Chris Copeland, plucked on a rookie contract from the Belgian league, and a 35-year-old rookie, Pablo Prigioni. This came a year after the Knicks were so successful at converting waiver wire pickups into vital assets like Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin, they went to arbitration over the right to pay them more.
And that's the best thing Carmelo Anthony has going for him. Like Ewing, he'll need help. And with the big bullets gone, amnesty spent on Chauncey Billups to bring in Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire taking up precious cap space, it will take creativity to get Anthony a title.
Then again, a Knicks team playing in May the way it played in April could have contended for a championship, rather than getting beaten by an Indiana team led by Lance Stephenson, a player the Knicks eschewed for Andy Rautins.
Eventually, luck will go New York's way. In the meantime, try not to blame the star, not surrounded by nearly enough talent to challenge one of the all-time greats. It made no sense when it happened to Patrick Ewing, and it makes no sense with Carmelo Anthony, either.