By John Schmeelk
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The Knicks are not in the Heat’s class right now. It’s an unavoidable fact that no one can deny after watching Miami easily dispatch the Knicks in five games. The Heat were better in nearly every aspect of the game, and their stars showed that they were more prepared to do what it takes to win than the Knicks’ triumvirate. They’re just a better basketball team with better players. It doesn’t always have to be that way.

First, imagine that the Knicks were actually 100% healthy. Over the course of the final month of the season and the first round of the playoffs, they lost their top two guards in Jeremy Lin and Iman Shumpert, along with Baron Davis. There isn’t one team in the NBA Playoffs that can afford to lose their point guard, backup point guard and best perimeter defender and be expected to pull off an upset against what many consider to be the best team in the league.

On top of that, throw in Amar’e Stoudemire’s bonehead-induced lacerated hand that forced him to miss Game 3. He could have been the difference in that game when the Knicks couldn’t get anything going offensively. Don’t forget Jared Jeffries’ knee injury either. The Knicks’ best defender off the bench, he was limited to under 10  minutes a game. Oh yeah, and Tyson Chandler’s stomach flu made him invisible in Game 1.

Even if all those players were healthy, the Knicks don’t beat the Miami Heat. I do believe, however, that we would have seen a Game 6 at the Garden, and perhaps a deciding Game 7 as well. But is that group better than the Miami Heat? The answer is no. That simple answer should tell Knicks fans all they need to know about the offseason: the status quo is not good enough.

The Knicks need to figure out where they can improve. There should be some natural improvement once this group gets a full training camp together under a head coach. Whether it’s Mike Woodson or someone else, the team needs stability. Between the coaching change this year and the constant injuries, the team was constantly trying to adjust on the fly. Amar’e Stoudemire needs to figure out a way to get his points with Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony on the floor with him.

Fitting the pieces together also requires a good head coach. It very well could be Mike Woodson, but the Knicks need to explore every single option before going down that path. Woodson did a good job this year, but his stagnant offense and lack of adjustments against the Heat were disturbing. Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan might not want to coach the Knicks, but the team needs to do their due diligence since it is one area where they can conceivably improve the team. Tom Thibodeau is reportedly upset that he hasn’t gotten a contract extension yet. That too, might be a pipe dream, but everything needs to be looked at.

Of course, every head coach needs an extension of himself on the floor; a true point guard to steer the ship. Is Jeremy Lin the answer? I think he can be a solid starter, but his numbers were undoubtedly inflated thanks to Mike D’Antoni’s system. Does he have the ability to run the team and keep both Anthony and Stoudemire happy? Can he stay healthy for an entire year? Before the Knicks spend their mid-level exception on him, they have to make sure someone else isn’t out there that’s better. Ahem, Steve Nash, cough.

JR Smith will likely find more money elsewhere. I believe the team has a good chance of retaining Steve Novak with their bi-annual exception. Josh Harrellson should improve and return next year and fill a role. Can Landry Fields get some semblance of a jumper back? It’s the only way he can return and help the team.

The Knicks don’t have many places where they can get better, so they better get them right. Getting the right coach and the right point guard is the only way this franchise can compete with the Heat next year, and maybe for the first time in what seems like an eternity, win a playoff series.

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If the entire team had been healthy, would the Knicks have had a realistic chance of upsetting the Heat in the first round? Offer your thoughts and comments below…