Knicks fined $25K but Julius Randle must roll with the punches

The New York Knicks took the blow for their embattled star Julius Randle.

A day after their embarrassing 102-91 loss to the lowly New Orleans Pelicans, the NBA fined the Knicks organization $25,000 for refusing to make Randle available for the postgame interview.

It was the seventh game in a row that Randle did not talk to reporters since incurring a $25,000 fine for using profane language during an interview to explain his thumbs-down gesture toward the fans two weeks ago. Over those two weeks, Randle talked to reporters only once after team practice.

Randle’s strained relationship with the New York fans reached another low Thursday night in his four-point dud against the Pelicans. Despite handing out a team-high six assists, Randle shot a measly 1 of 9 from the field and was a team-worst minus-26. The frustrated Garden crowd repeatedly booed Randle and chanted Obi Toppin’s name to replace him.

In a game where they trailed by as many as 25 points against a team with an inferior record, the hard-to-please New York fans let them have it.

It was Randle against the world after he earned a technical foul in the first half. He avoided a second one but not after an ugly show of frustration warding off his teammate Evan Fournier who was just trying to calm him.

Randle is crumbling under immense pressure. He’s shrinking under the weight of heavy expectations he set after leading the Knicks to a Cinderella run to the playoffs last season. He was celebrated after becoming an All-Star, making it to the All-NBA Second Team, and winning Most Improved Player. But in the toughest market to play in the NBA, you’re only as good as your last game.

After each passing loss and poor performance, the cheers have turned into jeers.

Randle was at his best when the NBA played without the crowd. But he regressed once the crowd came back.

For a player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Randle’s beef with the officiating and the heckling fans have created unwanted distractions.

But whether Randle likes it or not, he has to face the music. It’s part of what he signed up for. There’s no end to this drama unless Randle fights his demons.

Even a stretch of good games could only provide a band-aid solution. It will be like a nagging injury every time he slumps, and the Knicks fall flat.

The only way to exorcise his demons is to be mentally tougher, grow a thick skin, and put up a brave front every time the heckling grow louder, and the media questions get tougher.

The Knicks can always take the blow and shield Randle. But Randle can’t forever hide from the punches. The more he runs from them, the more they will chase him.

Randle can take a cue from his younger but seemingly mentally tougher teammate RJ Barrett. Just roll with the punches and come back stronger.

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