Carmelo Anthony says everything that happened last season is gone and forgotten, but he still has the scars from the worst year of his basketball life and the Knicks' 69-year history.
He says the 65-loss campaign, his season-ending knee surgery and all the ridicule the Knicks received have made him a better player and inspired him to never be in that dark place again.
"I never thought or imagined I would be going through something like that," he said. "I did it. Honestly, I can say that it made me a better person, it made me a better player. It put a lot of things in perspective for me. I use it as motivation. I know last year that wasn't who we are as a team, who we are as an organization or who we will be. We had a lot of people turn their backs on us, but we'll be all right."
The regular season opens Wednesday night in Milwaukee for the Knicks, and Anthony needs to be happy, healthy and on top of his game for his team to have any chance of being in the playoff chase. He returned with a positive outlook and an almost completely new group of teammates.
Club president Phil Jackson's rebuilding effort went into high gear as he brought in players who for the most part are considered good teammates with a defensive mentality. The Knicks needed both after a season in which the triangle offense wasn't embraced by everyone and defense was played by almost no one.
"I don't know if we have enough time to go into the things that didn't work well last year," said coach Derek Fisher, who could feel the heat in Year 2 of his coaching career. "It's last year. A lot of the guys we had on the team are gone."
The Knicks shelled out more than $90 million for free agents Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Kyle O'Quinn, Derrick Williams, Kevin Seraphin and Sasha Vujacic. They drafted 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis and mature combo guard Jerian Grant.
Anthony, Jose Calderon, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway, Lou Amundson and Lance Thomas are back from the 2014-15 team. Many returning Knicks have noted how much better the chemistry is now.
"It just feels different," Calderon said. "How everybody's working, how everybody's trying to help each other, just the environment, the atmosphere is different. Everybody's doing the right things, professional."
Said Anthony: "As a team, we came together quick. It all happened so quick. It seems like we've been together for a long time even though it's only been a month."
Before last season began, Jackson said the Knicks could be a playoff team. This time around, no one is making any bold predictions. "I wouldn't even jump out there and say that," Anthony said. "I believe that we can be a good team. I believe that we have an opportunity to be a good team. We won't know until we're out there."
The Knicks should be better defensively. They're banking on Lopez to be the rim protector and anchor that Tyson Chandler was in his first season with the Knicks, when he was named Defensive Player of the Year.
Afflalo and O'Quinn are physical defenders who should help the Knicks make a dramatic and necessary jump from last season, when they were 28th in defensive efficiency, 27th in field-goal defense and last in opponents' three-point shooting percentage.
"Phil as a coach with the success that he's had, defense was always at the forefront of those teams," Fisher said. "Last year's roster was already in place. The level of injury and transition we had a year ago, it was tough to be consistent in anything.
"But I think we just got back to what we always believed, and that's defense is really what wins championships. That's why we prioritized certain guys this offseason."
Developing Porzingis, the No. 4 overall pick, will be a point of emphasis. He's skilled and can shoot, but he still needs to learn the NBA game and its players.
Porzingis could benefit from playing with Anthony, who will continue to receive much of the defensive attention until others prove themselves offensively.
The Knicks have a number of players hoping to resurrect their careers or prove themselves, including Porzingis, Williams, Lopez, O'Quinn, Vujacic, Grant and Galloway.
Calderon is hoping for a bounce-back year after a disappointing, injury-riddled first season with the Knicks. He was glad he wasn't traded and believes having a group of guys who want to be with the Knicks will help their chemistry and play.
"Everybody on this team right now, they chose the Knicks or they wanted to be here and they feel comfortable and they're happy to be here," he said. "When you're happy at work and where you want to work, I think it's easier."
Anthony added, "I love the way that the team has come together. I love the way guys are going out there, working hard and playing. They want to win. That's a plus for us."