The New York Knicks are on the brink of elimination after a 125-114 loss to play-in-bound Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night at the Garden that snapped their season-high four-game winning streak.
One more loss or an Atlanta Hawks win Thursday night will boot the Knicks out of contention — a disappointing sequel to their Cinderella run to the playoffs as the no. 4 seed last season.
But the biggest story revolved around disgruntled Julius Randle’s future with the Knicks after rumors swirled around that he wanted out following Monday night’s win over Chicago Bulls.
Randle denied the rumor despite hearing boos from the home crowd during the players’ introduction against the Hornets.
“That’s not true, bro. That’s just not true, simple as that, it’s not true at all,” Randle said Wednesday night with a chuckle. “If it didn’t come from me, it ain’t true.”
Asked if he is still committed to the Knicks long-term, his answer was decisive.
“My answer ain’t changing, bro,” Randle said.
Randle still believes he can turn things around in New York despite a tumultuous season where his every move and reaction was scrutinized. At a glance, his production — 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists — is still worthy of the four-year extension worth up to $117 million that will kick in next season. But a deeper look will show empty stats as his shooting accuracy and efficiency dropped, magnified by his inconsistent defensive effort and poor body language. His constant bickering with the referees and a strained relationship with the fan base cost him a career-high 12 technical fouls and over $100,000 in fines. He quickly turned him from hero to heel in New York.
Randle explained he was just caught in heated moments, and while he insisted that he’s okay with the jeering that’s becoming a regular occurrence, he’s more concerned about his first-born son, Kyden.
“That’s probably where most of my frustration comes from. I have my 5-year-old son that’s there, who is obsessed with the game of basketball, loves the game of basketball, and he doesn’t understand what’s going on,” Randle said.
Randle said he’s always leaned on his family throughout this whole ordeal. Kyden has always been his biggest supporter, endearing himself to the fan base during Randle’s Most Improved Player and All-NBA campaign last season.
“That’s probably my biggest frustration — coming from him. The time I sacrificed from him to put into this game. He’s daddy’s little boy. He loves his dad. So for him to experience that and being uncomfortable and having to leave the games and stuff like that, as a father, that’s what bothered me more than anything. But at the same time, you have to understand it comes with the territory. The narrative can always flip. I understand that. I understand it’s New York City and I understand how passionate our fans are. You just kind of have to live with the good and the bad.”
Against the Hornets, Randle started to flip the script with a solid start to finish with 21 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. The jeers slowly turned into cheers as the game wore on, especially late in the game, with his no-look assists to RJ Barrett for a slam that cut the Hornets’ lead down to five. Moments later, he followed that up with a three-point play that brought the Knicks within four, 109-105.
“Everything is a lesson. You learn from experiences like these and keep moving forward,” Randle said.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau, Randle’s constant ally, was animated before the game when the rumor was brought up.
“Are you serious? Are you serious? Come on,” Thibodeau said. “You know I’m not going to respond to something like that anyway. Let’s be real.”
But the reality is the Knicks are far from contention with Randle as the centerpiece. The one-time All-Star struggled to adjust early in the season, playing alongside Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, who need the ball in their hands more than Reggie Bullock, and Elfrid Payton commanded last season.
He doesn’t have a lot of fans around the league, even during his outlier run last season. This season exposed Randle’s inability to co-exist with other ball-dominant players. The Knicks front office has to decide soon if he’s the right piece to attract stars in the near future as they plot their comeback from this disappointing season.
Randle insisted that he was fine despite his recent poor body language betraying his words.
“I’m cool. My goal and what I work hard for is to make the city proud, to make the fans proud. I play for my teammates. I play for my family. It’s as simple as that, bro. Nothing more than that,” Randle said. “From the inside looking out, it is what it is. You know? I understand that a lot of times, you’ve got to just let your game do the talking and go from there. Like I said, I love the city. My family loves it here. I’m a Knick. That’s what I love. I love being a Knick.”
Randle has to prove that love again and show it on the court before it’s too late.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo