The Knicks are in an enviable position after losing to

The Knicks are in an enviable position after losing to Heat – The Athletic this season

MIAMI — Jalen Brunson identifies with Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Just a few weeks ago, Antetokounmpo rocked the NBA world with his philosophy of failure. To put it another way, losing a playoff series isn’t an automatic dud, even if it’s a No. 1-seeded team that falls to No. 8, as just happened to its Milwaukee Bucks. Instead, the defeat was just another step toward a long-term goal.

Antetokounmpo plays the infinite game.

But in the finals, the Bucks had just surrendered to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. And on Friday, Brunson’s New York Knicks suffered the same fate just one round later. The Heat, not the Knicks, now face the Eastern Conference Finals after a 96-92 win in Game 6. And as he sat in front of reporters after the loss that ended his season, Brunson popped a question about the two-time MVP’s comments.

Brunson had seen Antetokounmpo say after the loss to the Heat, who are now the second No. 8-seeded team in NBA history to make the Conference Finals, joining the 1999 Knicks on the list. What did he think of Antetokounmpo’s mindset after dominating the New York offense on a night his teammates only had to claw-fight for their shots to hit the rim?

“Yes, it can go both ways. It just depends on how you look at it,” Brunson said. “We did a lot of great things for me this season. Of course we want the team to keep playing and have the chance to do so. It burns a little. It’s definitely a learning experience. But if you don’t win, you lose.”

On Friday, the Knicks lost – but not to Brunson, who scored 41 points on 14 of 22 shots. The other four starters combined had just 5 of 32 throws from the field, including a 1 of 10 performance by RJ Barrett and a 3 of 14 performance by Julius Randle. But as Brunson says, it can go either way.

The Knicks can take a closer look at that loss and focus on offensive spacing issues or their inaccurate defensive rotations after Jimmy Butler’s double-casting. Or they can soar far out in the atmosphere and take the same bird’s-eye view approach as deep thinker Antetokounmpo.

The season in New York may have ended in defeat, but it was also a step forward.

The Knicks are just a year away from a 37-win season that ended before the Play-In tournament even started. This team took on the vibe of a seven-dribble Randle post-up. A season later, the Knicks not only won; They did it with one direction.

The 2022-23 experience was not the same as the season a decade ago, when a group led by Carmelo Anthony won 54 games and lost in the second round of the playoffs. This team probably had a better chance of winning the title. It employed an all-world scorer, threw 3s at a time when the rest of the league hadn’t yet realized the true value of the deep ball, and placed an NBA Defensive Player of the Year on the team. But it was also made up of veterans and there weren’t many opportunities to improve.

You can’t say that about today’s Knicks.

Last season, losing more than they won with the veterans at the top, was a double whammy because they couldn’t find game time for their youngsters and still fell bottom in the Eastern Conference. They won this season when they were young. Immanuel Quickley took second place in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year poll. Quentin Grimes took on a starting role. Barrett completed the best period of his career in the playoffs, which ended with a cold performance on Friday.

“I played terribly. I’m very disappointed with my performance today,” said Barrett. “I don’t know. It’s a lot right now. You’re fighting for something; you want something so badly and then personally I didn’t do it – I don’t feel like I did my best. It hurts, but it is good to have such experiences, you can learn from them.”

And now, for the first time in years, the Knicks are in an enviable position: with promising young players, plenty of draft picks to add to the mix, and a star point guard in Brunson.

The grand plan has always been to trade for a star. Well, the Knicks can sell this situation to an A-lister.

They just won 47 games and a playoff series with a group whose oldest rotation player was 28. Brunson hit new breakthrough levels in the postseason for the second straight season.

“How come this guy isn’t an All-Star or All-NBA?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 6.

A Knicks point guard hasn’t been talked about with this enthusiasm in decades. Players will want to play with him.

Management will have to make decisions this summer.

Shooting has yet to be added, which could mean deviating from at least one of the starters. The Knicks’ offense plummeted during the heat series because Miami defenders showed little respect for their perimeter shooters. Especially if New York plans to play with a rim-diving center, guarding the playoffs will be too easy — no matter how impressive the regular-season numbers get.

What could this mean for Randle’s future or Barrett’s? And how much did Randle’s postseason struggles affect the goodwill he rebuilt during a resurgent 2022-23 season?

Management will continue to monitor the Star market. The Knicks own all of their first-round picks, plus four from other teams. If the right stallion comes onto the trading market, they are immediately involved. And unlike last summer, when they narrowly trailed Donovan Mitchell, they can now operate in the knowledge that the first star, Brunson, is already in town.

The Knicks must figure out potential extensions for Quickley and Obi Toppin, and ditch Josh Hart’s free agency.

But before it comes to roster building, New York can ponder an undeniable truth.

Last season’s Knicks finished playing basketball in early April. And entering training camp, the Knicks shouldn’t be doing much better this season. Vegas picked her to finish under .500.

But they won 47 games. They defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers with an impressive first round win. They found a star in Brunson and rehabilitated another in Randle, who emerged from an imbalance in 2021–22 and earned All-Star and All-NBA honors. The Knicks established an identity. They scratched and poked and poked until nothing was left.

29 teams lose the last game of their schedule. But for the Knicks, this season has been a step forward.

“Obviously disappointed,” Randle said. “We wanted more, expected more, but we’ll be back.”

(Photo by Bam Adebayo, Gabe Vincent and Jalen Brunson: Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)