The collected evidence against them is damning. The were ousted Wednesday in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat, who dispatched them in five games. They were swept in the first round last spring by the Boston Celtics.
Fifteen months after the blockbuster trade that brought Anthony to New York and united him with Stoudemire, the Knicks are still in search of greatness, or even consistency. They are 31-40 when both stars play, including a 1-7 record in the postseason.
So the doubts persist.
“I get tired of hearing that, man,” Anthony said Thursday, when the Knicks conducted their annual postseason exit interviews. “I get tired of hearing about, Can it work? Will it work? We’re here to play basketball. When we win, it works. When we lose, it don’t work.”
Anthony insisted: “We’ll figure it out. I don’t really think it’s something that’s that difficult to figure out.”
The Knicks, who went 36-30 in this compressed season, are headed for a busy and challenging off-season.
They are already moving to re-sign Coach Mike Woodson, who compiled an 18-6 regular-season record after replacing Mike D’Antoni. Woodson has the enthusiastic support of his stars. A deal could be completed by next week.
The Knicks also seem committed to re-signing , their young point guard sensation, who will be a restricted free agent. Woodson practically guaranteed it.
“Will he back next year? Absolutely,” Woodson said. “He’s a big part of our ball club.”
Woodson was less definitive about Lin returning as a starter, saying, “Only time will tell.”
Lin, who revived the Knicks’ season in February and became an international star, said he wanted to return to the team that gave him his N.B.A. break.
“I think it’d be great if I could come back,” Lin said, “but crazy things happen.”
The Knicks will have to use their midlevel exception, worth $5 million, to retain Lin (salary-cap rules will prevent rivals from offering more). Yet once they do, the Knicks will have little flexibility to sign players for anything more than the minimum. And they are almost certain to encounter a new rule that effectively imposes a hard payroll cap at $74 million.
Salary-cap constraints could prevent the Knicks from retaining their other top free agents, most notably Landry Fields, Steve Novak and J. R. Smith (if he opts out of his contract).
Fields has the best chance of staying, as a restricted free agent with “.” Smith is widely expected to opt out of his $2.5 million deal, although he said he is undecided. The Knicks will be unable to match any richer offers.
Then there is Novak, who is heading for his first big payday after leading the league in 3-point shooting. Novak is unrestricted, with no Bird rights. Assuming the Knicks use the midlevel exception for Lin, they will be left only with the biannual exception, worth $1.96 million, which might not be enough.
“All I know is how much I’ve enjoyed playing here and how much I would love to be back,” said Novak, a fan favorite.
The various cap restrictions will make it nearly impossible to sign an impact player, such as Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, unless he accepts a minimum salary. Or the Knicks would have to cut loose Lin, to keep their midlevel exception.
As much as any personnel move, the need to blend the talents of Anthony and Stoudemire will dominate the Knicks’ agenda in the months to come. They are the franchise’s two highest-paid players — earning a combined $39.4 million next season — and their two best scorers. They are under contract for three more seasons, so the Knicks’ championship hopes are dependent on their partnership blossoming.
“It definitely can work,” said Stoudemire, who contends the Knicks simply need time and stability.
Indeed, the Knicks have had little of either commodity since Anthony and Stoudemire became teammates.