GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Mike Woodson spoke like someone who knows he will return as Knicks coach and sounded as if he wants a veteran point guard running the team next season.
Woodson said Jeremy Lin, who will be a restricted free agent July 1, will be back. But Woodson wouldn't commit to Lin starting.
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Although Lin averaged 14.6 points and 6.2 assists before requiring knee surgery April 2, he's still mostly unproven and hasn't played in the postseason. The day after the Knicks' season ended in Game 5 with a first-round loss to Miami, Woodson said the "clock is ticking" to win now. To improve their chances, the Knicks could pursue more established point guards such as Steve Nash, Jason Kidd or former Knick Raymond Felton in free agency or trade for one.
"Jeremy's a big part of our team," Woodson said before conducting exit interviews with the players Thursday. "Will he start? Only time will tell. He's got to recover from his knee and use this summer to really work on his game to put himself in the best position possible for our ballclub . . .
"This summer will be pivotal in terms of his improvement. Will he back next year? Absolutely."
According to the rules of the collective-bargaining agreement, Lin can't make more than the average salary (roughly $5 million). The Knicks are over the salary cap but can use their midlevel exception on Lin or to match any offers for him.
If all of that money goes to Lin, who was 15-10 as a starter, the Knicks will be limited in what else they can do unless general manager Glen Grunwald can get creative with the roster. Having limited resources could hinder the Knicks' chances of getting an established point guard, but Amar'e Stoudemire said he would like to reunite with Nash, his former Suns teammate.
"What team wouldn't want a two-time MVP?" Stoudemire said. "An assist leader, a veteran point guard, what team wouldn't want that? But we do have Jeremy Lin here and we do have confidence in him and what he can do for us."
It's plausible that the Knicks will look for a floor leader with a strong personality who can distribute the ball and spread out the shots so Carmelo Anthony doesn't dominate the offense. The Knicks could decide that Lin, who has played 64 NBA games in two seasons, might be better served backing up and learning from a proven veteran -- if they can get one.
"He still has to learn the NBA and what it's about and playing at a high level," Woodson said. "There's no doubt in my mind that he's a smart enough player, that he will get better in time. But he needs the reps just like all players. It doesn't happen overnight.
"He still has a ways to go, but I think this summer will be a big start for him in terms of growth and where he goes with our ballclub."
Lin reiterated his desire to remain with the Knicks and seemed indifferent about starting. He said "it depends on the team" and added that his main concern is improving.
"My biggest fear is coming back to whatever team I play for next season and being as good," Lin said. "I need to be a lot better. I need to make sure I'm a lot better, a lot healthier, and that's my focus for the offseason. And then once training camp starts, wherever I'm at, I'm all about trying to make that team better."