The most exciting Knicks season in years came to a dismal end on Sunday afternoon as the Celtics finished flexing their muscles and sweeping the Knicks out of the playoffs.
Cheering fans sent the Knicks on their way out of the Garden in appreciation of the return of meaningful basketball. The audible grumbling that accompanied most of Games Three and Four sent a very different message, however.
The message is that the job isn't done, not even close, and that no one associated with the Knicks should think otherwise. It's good, then, that they have a matter of days to make two big decisions about the direction the team will be heading in the near future.
They've got five days to decide whether to exercise the $14.2 million option on Chauncey Billups for next season or to pay him $3.7 million to hit the bricks. That savings could come in handy for a team that needs a lot of help with the supporting cast, but Billups, imperfect fit though he is, should return.
His contract expires after next season, making him a valuable trade chip and keeping the position open should the Knicks be in the running for Chris Paul or Deron Williams when they become free agents. He doesn't fit particuarly well in Mike D'Antoni's offensive system, but replacing him will cost good money and not leave much over for the kind of big man that would make rolling the dice on a replacement worthwhile.
But, you ask, is it a sure thing that D'Antoni will return for another season? That's a fine question, but for the purposes of this exercise we're going to assume he's back.
We know the complaints about his inability to get his teams to play defense, his poor in-game decisions and his irrational rotations and agree with most of them. Consistency and stability matter, though, as does the fact that, for all those legitimate gripes, his team had a successful season despite getting totally rebuilt at midseason.
With the possibility of a lockout extending well into the offseason and possibly even longer, the prospect of changing gears with a new coach and new scheme seems even more unwise. D'Antoni is, for now, better than the unknown.
Of course, all bets are off if Donnie Walsh doesn't come back for another year. There's a deadline of April 30th to pick up an option on his contract for the 2011-2012 season, but it is somewhat artificial because the contract isn't actually up until June 30th.
The latest word is that the Knicks will offer him a two-year extension and that it will be Walsh's decision about whether or not to come back. That's good news, but we'll hold off on the celebration until James Dolan actually puts pen to paper.
Once the Billups, D'Antoni and Walsh decisions are made, the Knicks can move onto other issues. The lockout will surely get in the way of that for a while, but at least we'll know what the team's core will look like whenever basketball returns to a refurbished Garden.