Jericho Sims’ development crucial as Mitchell Robinson, Knicks continue contract extension talks

New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau harped about player development before the NBA All-Star break. He followed through by using their two-way player, rookie center Jericho Sims as Mitchell Robinson’s backup for two straight games.

But the timing of the multiple reports about the stalemate in Robinson’s contract extension talks put more weight on the importance of the Sims’ development moving forward.

An SNY report confirmed that Robinson’s camp did not accept a much lower offer than the $48 million, four-year max extension the Knicks could give.

“In at least one of the conversations between the Knicks and Robinson’s representation before the deadline, the team and player were “not close” on the terms, per an SNY source,” Ian Begley wrote.

“I’d be lying if I told you I knew the exact numbers discussed at the time. But a source familiar with the talks said one of New York’s offers wasn’t close to the max that the club can offer Robinson via extension,” Begley added.

Robinson can walk away as an unrestricted free agent after June 30 if nothing materializes with the Knicks, although it’s still possible he could be signed and traded.

The Knicks have created a baseline after signing Nerlens Noel to a $32 million, three-year deal (last year as club option) in the offseason. But the Noel signing proved to be a mistake as the veteran center played only 25 games in an injury-riddled first season of the contract.

So, are the Knicks taking an extended look at Sims to prepare for Robinson’s potential departure?

Sims played admirably against Joel Embiid. He registered 10 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and a blocked shot before fouling out in 18 minutes. He failed to score over his last two games, but the late second-round pick averaged 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.0 steal in 18.0 minutes.

“I thought the rebounding was really good, and look, Embiid’s a lot to deal with. You’re not guarding him individually. You have to guard him with your team,” Thibodeau said about Sims’ solid performance against the Philadelphia 76ers.

“And so, I think [Sims] is still learning, and he’s going to get better in time. But there’s a physicality to that. It’s not easy to deal with. [Embiid] is strong. He’s quick, and he’s skilled.”

Sims played ahead of veteran Taj Gibson, a Thibodeau lifer. Noel was technically available, but Thibodeau opted to rest him to get back to full health after reportedly nursing plantar fasciitis.

“I want him to go through some practices first before we throw him back,” Thibodeau. 

Noel was in and out of the lineup due to an assortment of injuries.

“We wanted to look at Jericho. But we like all of them. There’ll probably be a rotation there,” Thibodeau said.

As Sims entered the rotation, Robinson continued to struggle. Over his last three games, Robinson is only averaging 2.7 points and 6.7 rebounds, including a scoreless performance against the Eastern Conference’s top team Miami Heat. But the 23-year old center admitted he lost focus during that stretch as his father, Mitchell Robinson Jr., went missing.

“He was in Missouri. He could have told us. But I guess he needs some time to [do] stuff. I’m happy that he’s found safe. Now I can just focus back on what I need to be worried about right now. That’s a little weight off my shoulders,” Robinson said about his father and the ordeal he went through over the last two weeks.

But maybe there’s more to it after his cryptic Instagram story. But he clapped back at a Knicks fan who accused him of trying to get paid that’s “why he’s pushing the narrative that the coach is holding him back.”

Robinson is eager to atone himself after a six-point, four-rebound effort in 17 minutes before fouling out against Embiid. His first crack at redemption goes through Embiid again, and the 76ers on Wednesday as the Knicks embark on a seven-game road trip.

“I should have been more focused and ready to play. I should just play better. I’m going to take that L,” Robinson said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo


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