If everything in the Knicks' world were perfect -- if nobody were hurt, if J.R. Smith were merely scoring baskets, if Amar'e Stoudemire were his younger self -- there wouldn't be any dramatic improvement to look forward to.
So on a team that has so many loose ends, it doesn't take much beyond the sweep and grandeur of Carmelo Anthony's increasingly complete game to provide such room to grow.
Take the point-guard play (even as rumors are afoot that the Knicks might want to trade for help at the position). In Monday night's 98-96 overtime victory over the Suns, Raymond Felton didn't so much engender a wow! as a hopeful hmmmmm.
Felton's was not classic point-guard play. He contributed only one assist, made only one free throw and committed two turnovers. On defense, he often was scurrying in pursuit of the quicksilver Goran Dragic, who led Phoenix with 28 points.
But only Anthony (29 points) scored more for the Knicks than Felton (19). Only Anthony played more minutes (45:48 to 43:59). Felton began and ended regulation play with three-point baskets, the second a rainbow from the far right corner that sent the Knicks into a 92-90 lead with 53.1 seconds to play and temporarily appeared to be the winner.
"He was solid tonight,'' coach Mike Woodson said of Felton. "I've got to get him better; I've got to get our point guards better playing defense out front. But his overall game, in terms of running the team and making shots and getting the ball in the hands of guys, was pretty good again.''
Woodson cited this season's "roller-coaster ride with all of the point guards, because they've been in and out.''
Felton has missed 16 games with back, hip, hamstring and groin injuries, and this was only his fourth appearance since his latest health-related absence. Pablo Prigioni has been sidelined the last 13 games with a fractured toe, and Beno Udrih hasn't been available the last three games because of knee inflammation.
"I've played [Felton] some big minutes since he's been back,'' Woodson said. "I wasn't expecting to do that. But we had to. He hasn't complained about it. He's been playing pretty well. I hope we can keep him in uniform the rest of the way.''
Felton acknowledged that he was "feeling'' the extended minutes Monday night "for sure. And I'm sure I'll feel it in the morning as well,'' he said. "But I'll be all right. The training staff did a great job, keeping me in shape in my rehab. I actually lost weight when I was out.
"I'm able to move and do things I can do out there.''