New York City — it's the best basketball town in the world, except when the Knicks aren't winning. And after nine consecutive losing seasons, the picture looks bleak in the Big Apple. Something big needs to happen to turn this franchise around, but when? When will the Knicks become relevant again?

NBA commissioner David Stern probably ponders this question every day when he goes to work in the morning. The NBA thrives when New York is in power, but the league hasn't been in an Empire State of mind in a decade. Not since 1999, when Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston ran wild in Manhattan, have the Knicks been major players in the public eye. It's been countless years of losing, missing the playoffs, and above all killing time.

Waiting. Just waiting.

Knicks fans have spent the last decade waiting for something better. Waiting for Isiah Thomas to turn their draft picks into meaningful talent. Waiting for all that empty salary cap space to be filled by a star player. Waiting for someone — anyone — to make basketball matter again in New York.

They thought it would be LeBron James. And for a while, it looked like it would really happen, as things deteriorated between King James and his Cavaliers, and the Knicks shuffled their roster to clear out space for multiple max free agents. Everything the Knicks had done for years had been building up to the summer of 2010, and with LeBron planning a big "Decision," it appeared that their work would pay off.

But now LeBron's in Miami, and the Knicks are left hoping that scrambling for Plans C, D and E is enough to make them into a playoff team. Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and a stockpile of Golden State castoffs will have to take the place of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

And if that's not enough, then what's another year or two of waiting?

Let's face it: the Knicks aren't about to light the world on fire by 2011. A starting five of Amare, Felton, Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari and Bill Walker is good enough for a modest improvement on last year's 29 wins, but not much more. If the Knicks want to contend again, they have to think bigger.

They have to think 2012. Or at the very least, 2011.

Next summer, Carmelo Anthony has the chance to opt out and leave the Denver Nuggets after eight years. He'll be 27, in the prime of his career, and facing a golden opportunity to land a once-in-a-lifetime paycheck. And I'm not trying to say he's interested in the Knicks or anything, but let's just say Spike Lee was invited to his wedding and leave it at that.

Chris Paul is under contract in New Orleans until 2012, but his unrest with the direction of the Hornets' franchise is getting greater every day. It wouldn't be surprising to see him force a trade before his contract expires in two years. But if Paul does wait it out until 2012, that happens to be exactly when Felton comes off the books and the Knicks hit the market in search of a point guard.

We saw the Celtics build a Big Three and go from worst to first in one summer. We may see the Heat make a similar turnaround now.

The Knicks are capable of making that same transformation. It takes time, but the Knicks have already put in plenty of that.

The City That Never Sleeps has in fact been in a deep slumber for a decade-plus, but the future may hold just what the Knicks need to wake themselves up. will analyze 25 key NBA questions this September.

Sept. 1: What can we expect from the Celtics-Heat opener?

Sept. 3: Are the Nets still the worst of the worst?