NEW ORLEANS — A season that started with such promise is nearing an end for the Knicks.
With eight games left, they essentially are playing for pride and hoping to build momentum for next season. But that might be wishful thinking; the Knicks could look very different in 2016-17 from both a player and coaching standpoint.
The Knicks (30-44), who will play the Pelicans on Monday night, were eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight year when the Pacers beat the Rockets, 104-101, Sunday night.
In late January, the Knicks were 22-22, just a half-game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They were 23-31 when Derek Fisher was fired and have gone 7-13 under Kurt Rambis, whose first message to the team when he took over was to make it their mission to reach the playoffs.
“It was a goal to make the playoffs, but more about having a mindset that you’ve got to trust that you can go through this process and develop this mindset that you’re going to figure out how to win ballgames,” Rambis said. “Just having this mindset of trying to play together, going out and doing and executing the things that you have to do in order to win ballgames — you have to have that, you have to develop that.
“If you don’t have that, you’re not going to win ballgames. Period. And that’s the whole point of having that goal, that mindset of this is who we are and this is who we want to be.”
Team president Phil Jackson thought he had assembled a playoff-caliber roster last season, but the Knicks went 17-65. He retooled the team, bringing in eight new players. They’re better now, but still not good enough.
Now it’s unclear who will be with the Knicks beyond this season other than Kristaps Porzingis, the lone untouchable player on the roster.
Carmelo Anthony has a no-trade clause in his contract, so unless he’s willing to waive it, he is expected back. He hasn’t given any indication that he will waive it, although he did something he rarely does after the Knicks lost to his good friend LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Saturday night.
When Anthony was asked if he would waive his no-trade clause for a chance to play with James, he chose not to answer. He usually answers all questions directed at him.
“I don’t want to talk about that, man,” Anthony said. “I’d rather not talk about a no-trade clause after losing. I don’t want to talk about that no more this season, to be honest with you.”
But the question is sure to come up again, as is the one about Rambis’ future.
Jackson would like to keep Rambis, a friend who shares the same basketball philosophies. But there are many coaching candidates who have been more successful, including Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau and David Blatt.
Anthony recently said the Knicks should interview other candidates. He also said the “ball’s in their court” for management to make the necessary moves. For now, the players say their focus is on finishing strong.
“For the rest of the games that we have, it’s just a matter of going out there, playing, still working on your game, figuring out what you need to work on in the offseason, just trying to gain some momentum coming down here to the closure of the season,” Anthony said.
“What we can do, we can try to win every game,” Porzingis said. “That’s our goal. I don’t know if it’s still possible for us to make it in the playoffs, probably not . . . But go out there and play every game, 100 percent give our all, and we’ll finish the season with no feeling of regret.”
There probably still will be some.