A cynic would say that the Knicks’ extensive exit meetings Thursday afternoon lasted longer than their brief playoff run. But according to interim head coach Mike Woodson, the future is still bright.
Woodson, who is reportedly in the midst of long-term contract talks, said he’s already looking forward to next season and — if here — will fully utilize the complete summer schedule, which was something his team didn’t have last summer.
“Nothing negative, it’s all positive,” said Woodson when asked the gist of the exit meetings. “When you experience the kind of season we’ve had from an injury standpoint, and we still withstood a lot of that and to be able to make the playoffs, the future looks very bright. ... This team hasn’t been assembled very long. To be able to have a full training camp and push guys to work hard over the summer will be important.”
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Woodson was then quick to point out that not everything is rosy with the Knicks, as they still have tons of room to grow.
“If guys are happy with their games — status quo — they’re fooling themselves. Even the great players, like Amar’e [Stoudemire], Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and Tyson [Chandler], can always improve on something,” Woodson said. “Amar’e is a pro, so this summer he’ll need to develop some more low post moves. Tyson, too, because the game is played inside-out. They are athletic and have great bodies and I think they should be utilized more down low. … We might be asking Amar’e to do some things that he hasn’t been used to during his career, but he can do it. It’s not too late. All it’ll be is him expanding his game more.”
Stoudemire, who arguably had his most tumultuous season as a pro, agreed with Woodson and said getting past the second round is a must next season.
“I welcome that [low-post suggestion from Woodson] and I think it’s a great idea,” said Stoudemire, adding he’ll do whatever it takes to avoid another early playoff exit next year.
The maligned power forward also said the last two playoff appearances have left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“I’m craving to get deeper into the postseason, because it’s something I usually did my whole career,” said Stoudemire, who regularly advanced deep into the Western Conference playoffs as a member of the Suns. “This is not really something I’m accustomed to. But sometimes it takes you to fall short to go long. I think if we continue to keep learning and stay together that eventually we’ll get to the point where we’re trying to get to.”
Chandler, who was disappointed his arrival didn’t bring to New York what he did last year in Dallas, said everyone is to be held accountable. The Knicks’ main stars, however, need to be held at an even higher standard, according to the Defensive Player of the Year.
“We have to [improve] collectively. It has to be a team effort [and] can’t be as individuals, because when you play as individuals, you don’t get very far,” said Chandler. “We [himself, Stoudemire and Anthony] have to elevate our teammates. I think we have to do a better job of getting everybody involved, getting everybody playing at a high level and get everybody focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Knicks’ season was a roller-coaster and they ultimately fell short because they never really meshed during the rare times they were at full strength. Anthony said he’s particularly tired of the criticism and is looking forward to forming a formidable 1-2 punch with Stoudemire.
“I get tired of hearing that, man. I get tired of hearing about, ‘Can it work? Will it work?’” Anthony said. “When we win, it works. When we lose it don’t work. ... It will get figured out.”
That was about as negative as Anthony would get during his press conference.
“For the most part, we had an unbelievable season. Once we found that consistency we took advantage of that. The last two months we played some of our best basketball and guys were feeling great about themselves and the team,” Anthony said. “The energy that we created for ourselves, for the city, for the fans, was phenomenal. The fans stuck with us throughout. The last couple of months we found our identity as team — on the defensive end and offensive end.”
The identity of the Knicks may change again next season, as they’ll have to deal with outright free agency, restricted free agency and player options — all while being up against the salary cap.
Woodson said whatever the future holds for him or the franchise, should he and the core return, this summer will be one of the most pivotal in Knicks’ history because for the first time in over a decade, team expectations will be high. Woodson wouldn’t want it any other way.
“This summer will be very pivotal for our ballclub, as we’ll need to maintain contact with everyone and continue our development program with our young players as well as the veteran guys to get better for next season,” said Woodson. “Expectations are always going to be high and that’s the way it should be. That’s what we work for, trying to meet goals. … Two standout points that need to be met in terms of building a championship team are winning home games and winning the division. Do those things and you put yourself in position to extending your stay in the playoffs. … The future is very bright.”
»Anthony has claimed for years that he’s a leader, but has been under scrutiny all season from fans, analysts and former NBA legends that say he doesn’t make his teammates better. To that end, Anthony said he “doesn’t care” about the critics who are “on the outside” and is looking forward to coming back a more complete player. When asked about his conditioning, Anthony also disagreed with Woodson, who said he wants Anthony in better shape next season: “I don’t necessarily agree with him. … I’m in phenomenal shape.”
»One guy who may not come back because he might’ve played his way out of the usual one-year deals he signs is Steve Novak. The NBA’s leader in 3-point percentage, Novak may cost more than the mid-level exception the Knicks can offer next season (roughly $5 million): “Staying here is my first choice, but I’ll have to wait and see what free agency brings. There's no place I would rather be than here. … [But] we have to see what fair market value is.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for all your offseason Knicks news.