GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Mike Woodson wants to return and he wants Jeremy Lin back with him.
What he won't say is whether Lin would be his starting point guard next season.
"Jeremy's a big part of our team. Will he start? Only time will tell," Woodson said Thursday. "He's got to recover from his knee and use this summer to really work on his game, to put himself in the best position possible for our ballclub.
"He has started for our team, and he has played well for our basketball team, but this summer will be very pivotal for him in terms of his improvement and the future's very bright for him. So will he be back next year? Absolutely. He's a big part of our ballclub."
The Knicks began their off-season Thursday, believing they aren't far from contending status despite winning only one playoff game after getting swept last year.
Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire reaffirmed their confidence in their partnership, especially with Tyson Chandler in the middle of them. But New York has plenty of questions, beginning with the future of its interim coach and point guard.
Both are expected to return, but Lin knows there's a chance he won't as he heads to free agency. The Knicks will be able to match any offer, leaving Lin some comfort if he hopes to stay in his place in New York rather than heading back to the nomadic NBA life that had him sleeping on his brother's couch three months ago. But after not being drafted out of Harvard and being cut twice this year before he was signed by the Knicks, he isn't too stressed.
"It's all up in the air, but in my short, short amount of time in the league, I've had tougher things to deal with and so my biggest fear is coming back to whatever team I play for next season and being as good," Lin said. "That's my biggest fear. I need to be a lot better. I need to make sure I'm a lot better, a lot healthier, and that's my focus for the off-season. And then once training camp starts, wherever I'm at, I'm all about trying to make that team better."
Strong point guard play seems the biggest key to getting Anthony and Stoudemire to produce in tandem. Lin provided it during his short stretch as a starter, particularly during the height of Linsanity, when he drew comparisons to Steve Nash, both much of that came without the forward duo playing at the same time.
Now the Knicks could opt to pursue Nash or another veteran if they aren't sure about Lin, who missed the final 17 games and the first-round playoff loss to Miami after surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.
"What team wouldn't want a two-time MVP and assist leader, veteran point guard? What team wouldn't want that?" Stoudemire said of Nash, his former teammate in Phoenix. "But we do have Jeremy Lin here. We have confidence in him and what he can do for us."
Anthony also expressed confidence in Lin, and grew annoyed when asked about whether he and Stoudemire will ever blossom together.
"I just get tired of hearing that," Anthony said. "I get tired of hearing about can it work, will it work. We're here to play basketball. When we win, it works. When we lose, it doesn't work. It's kind of one of those situations, I get tired of hearing it. We'll figure it out. I don't really think it's something that's that difficult to figure out, but it'll get figured out."
They have to, because both, along with Chandler, are signed long term. Stoudemire is particularly hard to trade because of his injury history, uninsured, expensive contract and declining production this season, but he sees no reason to break up that group, anyway.
"I think as players, with Carmelo and myself and Tyson as a foundation trio, you can't ask for a better lineup than that in the NBA," said Stoudemire, before naming the star-led groups in Miami, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. "But I mean we're right there at the top of the bunch with the trio, so I think it'll just take a matter of time for us really to figure it out, have a consistent year."
The players all felt the Knicks would be better just by having a full season together after going through two coaches and a number of injuries this season. They said the goal is to win the Atlantic Division, guaranteeing them a top-four seed and avoiding teams like the Heat in the first round.
They also supported the return of Woodson, who led them to an 18-6 record and the Knicks' first playoff victory since 2001 after replacing Mike D'Antoni on March 14. He's acting as if he believes he'll be back, telling Stoudemire to work on his low-post game and vowing that there "won't be any time off this summer if I'm here as the coach."
"I've been around this thing a long time and to me it's all about winning. It's all I care about and I want 12, 13, 14, 15 guys that feel the same way. It's all about winning at the end of the day," Woodson said. "We've got a short window frame in there and my clock is ticking just like a lot of these players' clocks are ticking, and you've got to try to figure out in a short period of time, man, and that's what I'm about and if I'm here that's what I'm going to push players to be about."