Despite first-round playoff exit, Knicks built foundation for what comes next

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Julius Randle contested left-handed layup Hawks Game 5
Julius Randle contested left-handed layup Hawks Game 5

The Knicks exceeded almost everyone’s expectations in the regular season. The playoffs were a different story.

New York was beaten soundly by Atlanta in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. They trailed by as many as 19 points in the fourth quarter and had no answer for Trae Young, who finished with 36 points.

It was an ugly way to finish a surprisingly strong season.

Tom Thibodeau summed it up well when he reflected on the year during his postgame press conference.

“Just building a foundation, building the right habits. Everyone getting better, learning, growing, being together,” he said. “Getting knocked down, getting back up. Coming back in the next day, attitude and approach was outstanding from last summer to the end.

“I couldn't ask for any more from the team. They were a joy to be around every day. I have great respect for the effort they put forth, their togetherness. We fell short in the end. We'll look at it. We'll learn, grow. We know the challenge will be greater next year.”

New York enters the offseason with the possibility of $60 million in cap space and two first-round picks. So the club will have the assets to add significant talent to the roster.

By winning 41 games this season and making the playoffs, the Knicks also made themselves more attractive to potential free agents.

If the series with the Hawks informs the Knicks’ approach in the offseason, it’s clear that the club needs more play-makers and shooting.

Thibodeau hinted at the need for shooting when he was asked what the team may have learned about its roster during the Hawks series.

“I think you learn from each experience. Atlanta really added some good pieces to complement Trae (Young) and I think that helped them,” he said.

So it’s fair to assume New York will be looking for shooters in the offseason. Point guard is also an area of need.

But Thibodeau sounds like a coach who values the players on his current roster.

“I thought our guys gave us everything they had all year long. I'm very proud of them. Hopefully we can take this and use it as motivation for the work we have to get done in the summer in preparation for next year,” Thibodeau said. “A lot of guys, this was their first run to the playoffs so there's learning that goes along with it. Trial and error is a big part of learning until you get that experience. And there's only one way to get experience (and that) is you have to get it. It's a big part of learning and hopefully we can take that moving forward.”