Carmelo Anthony didn't re-sign with the Knicks to lose.
Missing the playoffs for the first time last season drives him, and the Knicks should be better than that 37-45 team. They have a better point guard and a deeper bench. There's more stability in the front office with Phil Jackson calling the shots and on the bench with Derek Fisher calling the plays.
Yet in the improved Eastern Conference, the Knicks are roundly viewed as a borderline playoff team and a franchise in flux. They're looking for the big score in the free-agent market in the next two summers en route to becoming an elite team. But talk of this being a placeholder season rankles Anthony. "I don't like to hear that because now is the time we can set that foundation,'' he said. "There are goals that I set from that standpoint as far as having the chance to win our division again, getting home court in the playoffs. It's going to take some work, but those are goals I set for us.''
The Knicks will open the season Wednesday night against the Bulls, a team many thought Anthony should have joined if he wanted to win now. But he took $124 million from the Knicks, hoping that Jackson's vision and the execution of his plan will lead to the team's first title since 1973.
The odds of it happening this season are as thin as dental floss. The Knicks' chances of missing out on the playoffs for the second straight year are better.
"I wouldn't know how to deal with that,'' Anthony said.
The Knicks have one star and only two returning starters: Anthony and Iman Shumpert. They have seven new faces, very few players who are good defenders and some key guys who have been injured often. And they're learning the triangle offense from scratch.
The premise of sharing the ball and getting everyone involved should be a staple in basketball, but many of the Knicks are scorers first. So the adjustment could take time.
J.R. Smith said it will take a few months to run the offense smoothly. Anthony said, "We're never going to know the system all the way. We're never going to have it all the way down pat.''
Fisher says the Knicks need to work through it. "We won't get a pass because we're doing a new thing offensively and we have a new coach and new players,'' he said. "I expect us to understand that and be ready to go right from the beginning. I think we have a really good team. It's just a matter of if we can remain committed even while you struggle, when adversity hits, when people are questioning what we're doing. Will we have enough resolve as a team to stay on that path of success? I think we can. But we have to prove it.''
Jose Calderon replaced much-maligned Raymond Felton at point guard. He's smarter, he's selfless and he can hit open shots. Calderon probably picked up the offense quicker than anyone else. Samuel Dalembert, still a solid post defender and rim protector, will start at center. Jason Smith, a good shooter and physical player, is expected to start at power forward.
Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr., Pablo Prigioni, Shane Larkin, Quincy Acy and Andrea Bargnani -- when healthy -- will be among the reserves. Fisher doesn't plan to go 12 deep, but he has options, and the Knicks have hope.
"We are still learning, but you can never underestimate a team,'' Stoudemire said. "There's been teams that are learning a system, and once they figure that system out, they win. When Tim Duncan played with the Spurs, his second year, they were somewhat of a new team but they won the championship. I'm sure we can search for that goal."
The Spurs also had future Hall of Famer David Robinson and their core group had been together. Duncan was the missing piece.
The triangle should lighten Anthony's load, and the Knicks could sneak into the playoffs if they defend and stay healthy. But to end their championship drought, they probably will need another star and a better all-around supporting cast.
"I understand why people would believe it to be that way,'' Fisher said. "If you don't see certain names on a roster, the assumption is that team can't win a championship or that team can't make the playoffs. I just don't think if you truly have the will to win and desire to win that anyone can place limits on you. We have the potential to create our own limits and limitations. If we go into it with that mind-set, we'll be OK. How the story ends up for this season, we'll have to write. We don't know the ending. We just have to remain true to the process and true to our habits. So far, so good.''