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For Knicks, Many Questions and Unclear Answers

A year ago, the New York Knicks were positioning themselves to make a run at the decorated free agent class of 2010. Names like LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Amare were all on their radar. Well, the SuperFriends decided to head to South Beach, and the Knicks ended up with Stoudemire, a very good consolation for missing out on James.

Stoudemire declared, “The Knicks are back,” and he wasn’t wrong. It was Stoudemire’s decision to take on the responsibility of re-energizing the Knicks franchise that laid the first brick, and the mid-season of acquisition Carmelo Anthony gave the Knicks a bonafide star-studded core. Some have questioned whether Stoudemire and Anthony would mesh; whether their offense-first games were ones that could be built into a winner. That’s where we are now. After being swept out of the 2011 NBA Playoffs by the vastly superior Boston Celtics, the Knicks have to build a winner around their two cornerstones.

While Anthony and Stoudemire are the faces of the franchise, there are questions abound that start even higher than them on the Knicks’ food chain. President and General Manager Donnie Walsh’s contract is up, and the architect of the Knicks’ renaissance status is at large. Some reports have surfaced that it’s up to Walsh to accept a two-year extension that the club is considering at the moment. The question here is, what is there to consider? Walsh took a dormant franchise that was in salary cap hell and in two years’ time brought them two formidable stars and cap-flexibility going forward. If there was tenure in the NBA GM world, Walsh would have earned it by now.

The fate of Head Coach Mike D’Antoni is likely liked to the future of Walsh. And while Walsh has earned every penny of his contract for the job he’s done, it’s a bit harder to judge D’Antoni. He has not had a full season with a truly competitive roster (but don’t great players make a coach’s job easier?), yet was swept out of the first round and was badly out-coached in every game by Doc Rivers. D’Antoni did not have a full deck in the first round, but his questionable coaching decisions were huge factors in Games 1 and 2, both games the Knicks very well could have won. Numbers are numbers, and you are what your record says you are. Since the Anthony trade, including the playoffs, the Knicks went 14-18.

Whether it’s Walsh pulling the strings or not, whoever makes the decision on D’Antoni needs to figure out whether his system will work in the long run with Anthony and Stoudemire. This writer, for one, thinks D’Antoni’s system has no chance of winning an NBA title, and thus a move should be made. Others fall in the category of giving him a full training camp with Anthony and Stoudemire (and perhaps Chauncey Billups – more on that in a bit) and seeing what he can do. There’s no question he could guide the Knicks to a 50-plus win season. But if their first round series with the Boston Celtics was any sign, regular season basketball and playoff basketball are two different animals.

The Knicks also have personnel decisions to make, the biggest one being the future of Billups. Billups has a team option at $14 million for next season, one which the Knicks have until Friday to pick up. Either the Knicks pick up the option and owe the 35-year-old Billups his full salary, or they buy him out and he hits free agency, where the Knicks could always try to renegotiate a deal with him. Of course, the latter choice is filled with risks. The safer play would be to bring Billups back, as his $14 million contract comes off the books after next season, when another summer of free agency madness begins. Billups’ expiring contract also makes him a tradeable asset, if potential free agents Chris Paul and Deron Williams pull an Anthony and force their way out of their respective towns.

The Knicks have other decisions to make regarding personnel, as they need to find a shooting guard with range and defensive ability, a viable backup point guard, and a legitimate center. But who will be making those calls?