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What's next for Jalen Brunson & Knicks after playoff exit

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The Knicks are eliminated by the Pacers, but their future seems promising after cementing an identity under Tom Thibodeau.

NEW YORK (AP) — Jalen Brunson’s postseason, one of the best ever by a New York Knicks player, had ended one quarter earlier because of a broken left hand.

Julius Randle’s season had been over for months already because of a separated shoulder, and three more key players had been lost in between.

Yet there were the Knicks, as stubborn as they were short-handed, putting together a run that forced Indiana to call timeout midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, trying to get to the next round no matter how many guys couldn’t have played in it.

“You know, I don’t want to discredit them at all, but with everything that happened, I think it was an 11, 12-point game with six minutes left, five minutes left,” guard Donte DiVincenzo said. “And that’s our mindset as an organization. It really does not matter who’s out there for us, because every single person is going to give 110%. We have a system, we have core principles, that if you follow them, you believe in, you give yourself a shot every single game.”

A healthy mindset is important. Healthy bodies matter more.

Their 130-109 loss in Game 7 left the Knicks still without a trip to the Eastern Conference finals since 2000, but there has clearly been progress since Brunson arrived. New York has won a playoff series in both of his seasons, after not getting to the second round at all since 2013.

Now the Knicks have to decide if they need to surround him with more talent, or if just being healthy enough would have been good enough.

After acquiring OG Anunoby on Dec. 30, they were rolling through their schedule in January, when they finished with a 14-2 record. But Randle was injured on Jan. 27 and eventually decided on surgery after attempting to come back.

Mitchell Robinson had been leading the NBA in offensive rebounding when he broke his foot in December. He returned late in the season as the backup but was lost again in the playoffs, as was forward Bojan Bogdanovic. Anunoby strained his left hamstring in Game 2 against the Pacers, missed the next four games and tried to return in Game 7 but lasted just five minutes.

“A lot of teams would’ve folded,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We took the hit with Mitch, then you add in Julius and OG, your starting frontline, and then Bogey goes out. It was hit after hit, but these guys never folded.”

The Knicks could opt to keep this team together, led by two All-Stars in Brunson and Randle, hope for better luck with their health and believe that they can be even stronger than this team that finished 50-32, second in the East.

Or, perhaps this was the peak for a group that can’t expect Brunson to be any better than he was this season. He finished fourth in the NBA in scoring, then became the fourth player to have four consecutive 40-point games in the postseason, finishing with five.

The Knicks have two first-round picks in the draft, which they could try to use in a trade package, and with three playoff trips in four seasons under Thibodeau, may be able to entice the kind of top free agents who had no interest in the NBA’s biggest market during the mostly miserable previous 20 years.

Brunson doesn’t sound like someone who will stand for the status quo.“I think the most important thing that I need to do is to continue just to strive for perfection, strive for perfection,” he said. “And, knowing that I’m never going to get there, it’s just my mind says I just need to be better every single day. I don’t care what I’ve done as a player. It means nothing. I need to be better and I’m going to go into the summer training to be better and I’ll come back ready next year.”

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