Instead, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Randle reinvented his game under Thibodeau and adapted to the modern N.B.A.: He developed his 3-point shot while also improving his passing and defense. Doubts about Randle faded as he morphed into an All Star.
“We’re bringing a brand of basketball back that the city can be proud of,” Randle said, adding, “We have something to build on for the future.”
That is the most important takeaway from this season. The Knicks are a coveted ticket again, which means they may be more successful at attracting top free agents, a task at which the team has struggled for most of the last two decades. That change in perception alone could make this season a success, regardless of how the series against the Hawks ended.
The Knicks finally have something they have craved for years: They have built the ground floor of something. Under the team president Leon Rose and the coaching of Thibodeau, there appears to be an organizational direction and a sincere — at least, for now — commitment to long-term development over short-term thinking. There are promising young players like Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. There are building blocks like Barrett and Randle. The Knicks also have multiple first-round picks in this year’s draft.
And, because of a handful of expiring contracts, the Knicks will have a great deal of cap flexibility. Several of this year’s Knicks, including Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton, will be free agents this summer — the result of a strategy in recent years to stack their rosters with short-term contracts.
To be sure, the Knicks have some important decisions to make. In many ways, the season that just ended was supposed to have been a bridge year. Instead, the team overachieved by making the playoffs, and then underachieved once it got there.
One of the first big calls will be deciding what to do about Randle, who turns 27 in November. As strong as he was in the regular season, Randle was abysmal against the Hawks in his first postseason, shooting 29.7 percent. This was his seventh N.B.A. season, but which is the real Randle: the one who grew into an All-Star during the season, or the one who vanished against the Hawks? And what now?