Knicks reunion among Carmelo Anthony’s options during free agency

New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony

After the Portland Trail Blazers moved on from him, Carmelo Anthony considered a reunion with the New York Knicks.

In Chris Hayne’s podcast on Monday, Anthony revealed that moving back to New York was among his options in the free agency before the Los Angeles Lakers offer came along.

“It was (hard) because I had just moved and bought a house in New York, Anthony said. “It was unexpected. My son starts school (today) in New York. So it was like, I’m here, I’m home. I never expected the Lakers to call.”

While Anthony said he’s been spending summertime in Los Angeles for more than a decade now, moving his family there never crossed his mind.

Anthony, a Brooklyn native, spent some of his prime years with the Knicks and led the team to the playoffs in 2013.

The Lakers were the Knicks’ rivals during their two championship runs in the 70s. The spotlights of Broadway and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood made them the two biggest markets in the NBA.

“I don’t know if I was ready to do that because that’s a big shift. When you wear the purple and gold, that’s different. Even in New York, when you wear the blue and orange, that’s blood. That runs deep. It’s the same way as the purple and gold. It’s just at different sides of the country,” Anthony said.

Anthony said he was in constant communication with Portland’s stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He was waiting for the Trail Blazers’ call that never came. So he thought he’d move back to the east coast.

“I made [Portland] almost like a home for me. Within two years, I felt like I was a part of that community,” Anthony said. “New York was always there. Coming back to New York was always a story. I’ve always told my son when he goes to high school, I’ll be right there with you. The New York thing made sense.”

Anthony would have added more firepower to the Knicks’ bench that already has Derrick Rose and the pair of electrifying sophomores Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin.

Aside from the Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Orleans Pelicans also showed interest.

“I didn’t really get a chance to really converse with Philly, but there was interest there,” Anthony said.

He then revealed that Philadelphia’s stars Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris reached out to him, but he never had the chance to talk to them as the Lakers scooped him up before the Sixers did.

The opportunity to chase a ring with his good friend LeBron James and Anthony Davis was too good to pass up, but it was never an easy decision.

“Having a great chance to win [was what made me decide to join the Lakers]. It took me some days to really like sit down and kind of break it down and really dig deep into making that decision,” Anthony said.

“To most people, it probably would have been an easy decision to make. But to me, it wasn’t. I really have to align a lot of things and put things in order for things to work out, for me to feel comfortable to be away from my family for another year and the kids not being there. People don’t understand that part. That’s the hardest part. The basketball (part) is easy.”

Anthony was linked to the Knicks when his former agent Leon Rose became the team’s president. But the former Knicks star said the interest wasn’t mutual.

“At this point, it wasn’t really a lot [of consideration],’’ Anthony said in the summer of 2020. “The Knicks were making moves and were trying to figure out the direction they wanted to go in. They weren’t done making moves. I’m sure they have a plan. I don’t think me coming in and trying to mess their plan up was good for either party.”

“They are rebuilding and figuring out what’s in their near future. It was me personally wanting to be part of a situation I was already comfortable with. I just finished playing with these guys two, three months ago. I felt it was the right fit at this point of time where I’m at right now this particular year.’’

Then the Knicks made a surprising run to the playoffs and have positioned themselves to make another serious run this season with the addition of four-time All-Star Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier.

What a difference a year makes.

The Knicks suddenly became an attractive destination to Anthony again until Hollywood pulled him away from home.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks: Leon Rose swings for the home run with Kemba Walker NY homecoming

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Kemba Walker in New York is the first sign that the Knicks are starting to shed their “no man’s land” label.

It will be the first time since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010 that an All-Star caliber player will be signing with the Knicks. Never mind if Walker is coming off a down year derailed by a knee injury. But consider this: an All-Star talent like him could have commanded several offers from playoff teams, but he chose the Knicks and gave them a hometown discount.

On one good knee, Walker still averaged 19.3 points and 4.9 assists in 43 games last season.

This summer, his focus is on getting back to full health and return to his All-Star form next season.

“I’m planning on a big summer and getting myself feeling good again. It’s been a while since I’ve really had time off,” he said after the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the playoffs last June. “This is an important time for me.”

A healthy and motivated Walker next season could be the difference-maker for the Knicks after their surprising playoff run ended in a gentleman sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Walker is a massive upgrade from Elfrid Payton, giving Tom Thibodeau a bona fide playmaker and shotmaker that will command attention away from the team’s other All-Star and the league’s Most Improved Player, Julius Randle.

Walker is projected to join a supercharged starting unit alongside fellow newcomer and former Celtics teammate Evan Fournier with holdovers RJ Barrett, Randle, and Mitchell Robinson or Nerlens Noel at the middle.

The Bronx native who starred in Rice High School and nearby UConn in college is coming home to the Madison Square Garden, where he had his legendary Cardiac Kemba Shot.

More than his reputation as a big shot maker, Walker is also a great locker room presence and a leader who fits the culture the Knicks are building.

The Walker homecoming came out of the left-field. Leon Rose and the Knicks were ridiculed following a ho-hum start in the free agency after creating as much as $52.6 million in cap space this summer.

They started the free agency by re-signing Alec Burks (3-year, $30 million), Nerlens Noel (3-year, $32 million), and Derrick Rose (3-year, $43 million deal via Early Bird Rights). Then they upgraded the wing spot with Evan Fournier (4-year, $78 million) after Reggie Bullock departed for the Dallas Mavericks (3-year, $30.5 million).

Taj Gibson also agreed to return on a 1-year, veteran minimum deal ($2.7 million).

It turned out all the multi-year deals they doled out have team options in the final year, giving Knicks flexibility in 2023 free agency where Zion Williamson and Joel Embiid could be the potential crown jewels.

The Knicks have been sneakily good since Leon Rose came to power. The shrewdly executed trades in the NBA Draft have set them up for a banger of a summer.

They traded away their 19th pick to Charlotte for a future first-round pick, then traded back from 21st pick (from Mavericks via Kristaps Porzingis trade) to 25th pick for 3-and-D prospect Quentin Grimes — a move that saved them $2.7 million in cap space. Then they flipped the 32nd pick into the 34th (Miles McBride) and 36th pick (Rokas Jokubaitis) and took Texas Longhorn center Jericho Sims, a candidate to slide in one of their two-way player slots, with their 58th pick.

Here is the Knicks updated Depth Chart:

PG: Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose, Miles McBride

SG: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Luca Vildoza

SF: RJ Barrett, Alec Burks, Quentin Grimes

PF: Julius Randle, Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox

C: Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, Taj Gibson

The Knicks accomplished three things with their savvy moves — continuity, flexibility, and respectability.

They are determined to prove that last year’s playoff run was no fluke and took some risks to upgrade the talent in their roster. Walker and Fournier should provide an offensive boost to a starting unit that heavily relied on Randle.

Based on their shooting percentages last season, Fournier is a significant upgrade over Bullock.

Meanwhile, the return of Rose and co. maintained the league’s fourth-best bench unit (37.6 points per game) last season, with Robinson and Noel anchoring their top-4 defense (107.8 defensive rating).

It took a while before the Knicks’ grand plan this summer all came together. And it started with a perfectly executed bunt in the Draft that allowed them to hit singles with Fournier, Rose, Burks, and Noel to cover all bases before swinging for the home run with Walker.

Well played, Leon.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

NBA Free Agency Primer: Will Knicks remain conservative or make a splash?

The New York Knicks remain a mystery despite a playoff run that purged the long years of misery. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from Leon Rose’s leadership after a year of operating in the shadows is that patience is a virtue.

There’s already a pattern we can deduce from the way they approached last summer’s free agency and last Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Last summer, the Knicks created over $40 million in cap space, yet their signings didn’t scream sexy and fancy. Instead, they went after grimy stuff and made them shiny once the sexy names like Gordon Hayward went off the board.

Last week, we saw the same kind of maneuvering from the Knicks in the NBA Draft when they took a calculated conservative approach once their targets were off the board. They got away with Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, two rookies who could become rotational pieces after the once-grimy stuff they stumbled upon last summer sign fancy deals somewhere else.

They followed up that conservative Draft Day by exercising their $1.8 million team option on Mitchell Robinson and waiving Norvel Pelle and Frank Ntilikina. Now, they are armed with the most significant cap space — $52.6 million — in the NBA landscape this summer.

All moves are indicative of one thing — creating the largest cap space as much as possible.

The thing is, the Knicks also want the shiny stuff like the rest of the league. Even their two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau pleaded for stars, whether from free agency, trade market, or at the very least, organically developing one through the draft. But after returning to relevance with a first-round playoff appearance, the third option is no longer viable. And it’s no longer as impossible as it was a few years back for the Knicks to land a star via free agency.

Rose moves in mysterious ways. He may be silent, but the Knicks’ actions are pretty telling. His silence is synonymous with the Knicks’ patience.

Based on their recent actions, here is my educated guess on what the Knicks free agent board look like:

Top Targets

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard remain this summer’s biggest prizes despite overtures that they will re-sign with their respective teams, Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers. Things can change quickly in the NBA.

The Knicks can easily slot one of them to their cap space and possibly work a trade to dump salaries if both A-list stars want to team up in New York. The operative word here is “if.”

Backup plan

If Paul and Leonard opt not to move, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will dictate this summer’s free agency. Both former All-Stars are on their last legs, and reuniting in a contender would be a dream come true for the best of buddies.

Pat Riley has his eyes set on Lowry via sign-and-trade and DeMar DeRozan for the Miami Heat’s full MLE.

The Knicks have all the cap space in the world to scuttle those plans and immediately solve their glaring holes in the point guard and wing spots while still having the option to have either Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock or both of them re-sign via their Bird rights.

Lowry and DeRozan starting alongside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Robinson with Rose and Bullock leading the bench with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin will make them more formidable than last year’s overachieving roster.

This move makes them a bona fide playoff contender for the next couple of years while they continue to organically develop their young core and angle of the next disgruntled star.

Place holders

Just like last year, the Knicks could always go back to the route of signing underrated players to shorter deals to preserve cap flexibility. If Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine won’t sign an extension this year, next summer’s free-agent market will be loaded.

And there’s always the allure of the trade market as Damian Lillard’s clock in Portland has begun ticking or even Beal if he sees the Wizards heading to a rebuild rather than contending soon.

But having the cap space to absorb the exorbitant contract of a disgruntled star isn’t enough for the Knicks to become a major player in the trade market. They can use this free agency to get solid pieces that can help them in the present and become salary fillers in a blockbuster trade in the future.

If the Knicks decide to punt this summer again, here are some names to watch outside their own free agents:

(starting salary range based on ESPN’s projection)

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie ($18-20M), Lonzo Ball ($18-20M), Dennis Schroder ($16-18M), Devonte Graham ($12-14M), Reggie Jackson ($10-12M), Cameron Payne ($8-10M)

SG: Norman Powell ($18-20M), Evan Fournier ($14-16M), Danny Green ($8-10M), Malik Monk ($6-8M)

SF: Duncan Robinson ($14-16M), Josh Hart ($10-12M), Kelly Oubre, Jr. ($10-12M), Carmelo Anthony ($4-6M)

C: Richaun Holmes ($12-14M), Andre Drummond ($10-12M), Javale McGee (veteran minimum)

The Knicks have all the tools to upgrade — cap space, stable organization, family environment, and a team on the rise. They will strike when the opportunity arises. This summer gives them a small opening to get that shiny stuff and not settle with the grimy one that needs elaborate work. But they are also disciplined and wise to acknowledge when they couldn’t crack that opening wide enough.

Let’s see if the patience the Knicks have shown so far finally pays off.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Tom Thibodeau bares what Knicks are looking for in NBA Draft

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The New York Knicks have four picks (19th, 21st, 32nd, 58th) in the upcoming NBA Draft. But the consensus around the league is that they will not be adding four more rookies to a core that finished fourth in the Eastern Conference this season.

New York coach Tom Thibodeau confirmed that belief on Friday at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.

“For myself, I’m catching up. Our scouts have evaluated them. They put a lot of work into it. And then you have to be ready for all the possibilities — whether you move up, move back, or you trade out,” Thibodeau said.

The Knicks have met with some prospects who are mocked out of their range, such as projected lottery picks Scottie Barnes (FSU), Jalen Johnson (Duke), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), James Bouknight (UConn), and Corey Kispert (Gonzaga).

They have to package some of their picks or a combination with one of their players under contract to move up.

Teams who could be willing trade partners are the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors have two lottery picks (7th and 14th), while the Thunder have three picks in the top 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who are picking at No.3, are also rumored to be moving on from Collin Sexton as they can land either Jalen Green or Jalen Suggs.

But the Knicks are also prepared to stick with their picks, looking for two particular skill sets in this Draft.

“I love coming here for the opportunity to sit down and interview with players. You get to know them a lot better. So you’re still gathering information. You see who might be a good fit for you. And again, I think we’re looking for wings and guys who can shoot. So there’s a number of guys that we think are gonna be good pros. So there’s a lot of value here,” said Thibodeau.

So far, the Knicks have zero in on guards and wings who can score in a myriad of ways.

Aside from the five projected lottery picks mentioned above, they have also either interviewed or conducted a workout with Jared Butler (Baylor), Nah’Shon Hyland (VCU), Ziaire Williams (Stanford), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Joshua Primo (Alabama), Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Jose Alvarado (Georgia Tech), Mac McClung (Texas Tech), Alan Griffin (Syracuse), Marcus Zegarowski (Creighton), Geo Baker (Rutgers), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State) and big men Trey Murphy III (Virginia), Luka Garza (Iowa), Moses Wright (Georgia Tech) and Fardaws Aimaq (Utah Valley).

“These players are remarkable and how well they present themselves. I think they’ve gotten used to this environment. I think the agents are doing a good job in preparing them. You’re also doing a lot more research. You’re talking to a lot of people around them. And then you’re seeing and evaluating whether all the intel matches up to what the players are saying,” Thibodeau said of the Draft process.

“A lot of times, you find a lot of interesting things. I think that’s an important piece of this. It’s not the end-all, be-all, but it’s a big part of determining who would fit into your group,” he added.

Last year, the Knicks successfully picked two rookies — Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — who were gym rats that seamlessly fit into Thibodeau’s culture. The past regimes have more misses than hits in the NBA Draft. But after team president Leon Rose beefed up the Knicks scouting department led by scouting guru Walt Perrin, there’s hope that the Knicks have a much better grasp of the process this time around.

On top of the specific skill sets they are looking for, the Knicks also value their background. They have cast a wide net, including unranked prospects, to have more intel which becomes useful down the road.

It’s a Perrin signature that his former team, Utah Jazz, did in trading for the likes of Jordan Clarkson.

“There’s a great value in [character]. You try to measure their drive and intelligence and how players have improved over a period of time. And also if they have gotten through some adversity. You’d like to see that quality as well. There are a number of things you’re looking for,” Thibodeau said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Magic Johnson on Knicks: ‘Superstars are gonna want to play here now’

The days are gone that superstars would avoid the New York Knicks like a plague.

That’s how Magic Johnson views the current Knicks situation following a surprising turnaround this season.

Appearing as a guest on Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin radio show, Johnson said the Knicks have become a viable destination.

“Superstars are gonna want to play here now (in New York),” Johnson said.

The former Lakers executive explained how players think and play out a possible scenario.

“I think because they made the run and got to the playoffs. And the city is alive about the Knicks, right? I think guys are now looking at and say, ‘Hey man, if I put myself in that lineup with Julius (Randle), (Immanuel) Quickley, (RJ) Barrett and on, and on. Hey, man, we could do something special.’ Because that’s what guys wanna see,” Johnson said.

“If I put my talent with those guys, can we make a run for the championship? And that guy will talk to another guy and that’s how it’s gonna get started. And Julius Randle, I think guys would want to play with him because he plays hard, he’s a team player. He’s tough and rough,” he added.

Johnson said he’s glad that he had a hand in Randle’s development with the Lakers.

Randle, who left Los Angeles for New Orleans when LeBron James took his talent to Hollywood, finally found a home in New York. His hard work paid off with his first All-Star appearance, a spot in the All-NBA Second Team, and the Most Improved Player award on top of leading the Knicks to the first round of the playoffs.

While the Knicks, under former super-agent turned league executive Leon Rose, have finally found stability, the rest of the league is in a state of flux.

Some of the league’s stars enter the summer with their future in question.

Damian Lillard openly aired his frustrations in Portland following another first-round exit. Washington’s Bradley Beal has one year left in his extension with a new coach coming in. Luka Doncic just lost the executive who handed him the keys to the Mavericks’ franchise. Zion Williamson will be having his third coach in three seasons in New Orleans’ small market. Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers are reeling from a second-round upset, in large part, due to Ben Simmon’s broken jumper.

Seven teams are searching for a new coach. Established superstars fell one by one in the first two rounds, failing to survive the pandemic-condensed season. There’s a new order in the league. There will be a new champion this season.

Then there’s the Summer Olympics in Tokyo which could become another breeding ground for a future super team.

For the first time in decades, the Knicks have more to offer than just money and the bright lights of Broadway. They finally have a culture and a young playoff core to pair with their large cap space of more than $50 million.

Magic Johnson always tweets the obvious as a reaction to what’s happening around the league. This time, he’s manifesting the obvious direction of the Knicks’ franchise.

There’s a perfect storm waiting to happen in New York.

Can the Knicks capitalize?

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo


Report: Chris Paul plans to decline player option; are Knicks in the mix?

Is a 36-year old Chris Paul the answer to the New York Knicks point guard woes?

The Knicks’ weakest link had been exposed in the playoffs as Tom Thibodeau scrambled for options at the point guard spot. Thibodeau was forced to rely heavily on Derrick Rose, who admirably played well until the former MVP ran out of gas in Game 5.

Enter Paul, who is reportedly planning to decline the lucrative player option that could make him the third-highest paid NBA player next season.

Eric Pincus, Bleacher Report’s salary cap guru, reported on Thursday that Paul would seek a multi-year deal that will pay him up to his late 30’s.

“Paul has a $44.4 million player option, which according to several sources, he intends to decline with hopes of inking a new multiyear deal (perhaps in the $100 million range over three seasons). It’s unclear if his recent shoulder injury changes his plans. Gordon Hayward, who has battled more severe injuries than Paul, made a similar decision this past offseason, opting out of his final year with the Boston Celtics to sign a four-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets,” Pincus wrote.

The Knicks balked at Paul’s price tag last offseason. With Paul becoming more affordable, will the Knicks take a flier on his last remaining NBA years? Paul’s ties with the Knicks’ leadership could play a factor.

“The New York Knicks appear to be a player away from being a competitive playoff team in the East. With Paul’s relationship with former CAA agent Leon Rose, now president of the Knicks, the Suns may have some competition for the veteran’s services next season,” Pincus added.

While Paul is currently dealing with a shoulder injury, his impact on a Phoenix Suns team that jumped from a borderline playoff team to the second seed in the West with him has been one of the biggest storylines along with the Knicks’ remarkable rise.

Paul’s friend and former teammate Matt Barnes said in November last year that the Knicks were on his shortlist.

“He was saying the Knicks were an option but, you know, if he was going to New York he wanted the full Knick experience, meaning he wanted the fans, he wanted the essence, he wanted the ambiance of that Madison Square Garden crowd. And going there now, you know, we don’t know if that crowd will ever be back,” Barnes said.

The crowd turnout at The Garden in the Knicks’ first playoff appearance in the last eight years could gravitate Paul to New York and reunite with his former agent Leon Rose.

Paul’s numbers may be down in the playoffs, but that can be attributed to his injury. His leadership, however, is immeasurable. The Suns are on the cusp of eliminating the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, with Paul guiding the team’s young core.

Derrick Rose hinted at Knicks’ big offseason plans following their playoff exit.

“You know how that goes, man, that’s not up to me,” Rose said. “That’s up to the front office. They got big plans. Who knows if I may be back. I don’t know. I’m going to let my agent and them talk about it. But it’s really not up to me at all. We’ll just leave it like that.

Was he referencing Paul or another marquee player? That is up for debate in the next couple of months.

Paul could be the All-Star point guard that could catapult the Knicks to true contention in the East when healthy. But it’s going to be a move that comes with a risk given Paul’s age and playoff injury history.

The Knicks could opt for a younger point guard in LaMelo Ball, a restricted free agent, or Dennis Schroeder. But Chicago is also strongly interested in Ball. Meanwhile, Schroeder has been a big disappointment in the playoffs. The German point guard recently declined a four-year, $84-million extension with the Lakers.

If Schroeder wants more than that, it might be best for the Knicks to take a flier on Paul or Kyle Lowry or bring back Rose while waiting for a worthy successor.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Windhorst: ‘Scott Perry will be around Knicks longer’

New York Knicks

New York Knicks general manager Scott Perry started the NBA season on shaky ground. But along with Julius Randle and the Knicks’ rise, Perry is believed to have found his solid footing on the new regime.

ESPN’s NBA Insider Brian Windhorst posited on his podcast that Knicks team president Leon Rose would retain Perry on Tuesday.

“Scott Perry only got a one-year contract extension,” Windhorst said on Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast.

“I think someone should want to hire him,” his guest, ESPN’s The Jump host Ramona Shelburne replied.

“I’ll get in trouble for saying this because it will get aggregated, but I hear Scott Perry will be around the Knicks longer,” said Windhorst. “He will be. I hear it is all going to be worked out.”

Perry is a remnant of the Steve Mills era. But he’s not at all a stranger to the new regime. He has prior connections with the Knicks’ current team executive vice president and Rose’s senior advisor William Wesley.

The two executives have known each other since Perry’s days with the Detroit Pistons in the early 2000s. Wesley has become an influential figure in the Pistons’ locker room, being Rip Hamilton’s confidant and a close friend of coach Larry Brown.

While Perry was there, he helped the Pistons build a consistent playoff roster that went to the Eastern Conference Finals six times and won an NBA championship in 2004 under Brown.

Before this season, Perry’s future with the team was murky.

But to Perry’s credit, as Shelburne discussed on the Windhorst’s podcast, he was responsible for pivoting quickly to Randle after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving spurned the Knicks.

Perry locked up Randle to a team-friendly deal, and his gamble paid off.

Randle has emerged as an All-Star this season, leading the surprising Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in eight years. He is the favorite to win the Most Improved Player of the Year and a cinch to be selected in one of the three All-NBA teams at the end of the season.

Perry has also stuck to his guns during the 2019 NBA Draft picking RJ Barrett with the third overall pick despite some quarters in the Knicks organization wanting to trade down and pick up additional draft assets in return.

After an All-Rookie Team snub last season, Barrett bounced back and has added an outside shot to his developing all-around game that has become vital in Knicks’ success this season.

He also signed Reggie Bullock and Marcus Morris and flipped him for a first-round pick that eventually became Immanuel Quickley.

Perry was also responsible for drafting Mitchell Robinson in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft and locking him up to a team-friendly contract. But he also had his shares of misses, like picking Kevin Knox over Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter, Jr, and hiring Dave Fizdale over Mike Budenholzer.

Before coming to New York in 2017, Perry also had stints with Orlando — where he drafted Victor Oladipo, Aaron Godron, current Knick Elfrid Payton, former Knick Mario Hezonja, — and the Kings after his first stop in Detroit.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Julius Randle owes Knicks new regime: ‘They saved me’

new york knicks, tom thibodeau

Julius Randle had just one of the worst games of his career — eight points on 4-for-13 shooting in 27 minutes.

It was a nightmarish start to the Julius Randle era in New York as the Knicks plunged into a 1-6 record after a 113-92 beating at the hands of the Sacramento Kings. They trailed by as many as 32.

Randle expected it to be tough. He knew what he signed up for. But the pain hit him differently when his first season with the Knicks began to unravel.

The weight of the expectation that came with the $63 million worth of three-year contract he just signed a few months earlier is starting to pull him down.

On that night of November 3, 2019, the seed of what is shaping up to be one of the most memorable seasons in the Knicks’ franchise history was planted.

Randle was wallowing in pain in a restaurant somewhere in Manhattan. Then his phone rang. It was his agent, Aaron Mintz from the Creative Artists Agency.

Randle picked up the call. A few moments later, Mintz, along with his CAA associates Leon Rose and Wesley William, more famously known as ‘World Wide Wes,’ sat on the table listening to Randle’s ranting.

Kenny Payne, Randle’s coach and confidant at the University of Kentucky, was also there that night as the Wildcats were in town set to play the Michigan State University a couple of nights later in The Garden.

“They’re like picking me up because I was down,” Randle recalled that night on ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

They quizzed Randle.

The former Los Angeles Lakers lottery pick was already tired of losing. He hadn’t been to the playoffs in his first five years in the league up to that point.

“What is it that you see? What are you feeling? What’s going on?”

The season has just begun. But it felt like an exit interview.

Randle poured out his heart to Rose and co. He was complaining about a lot of things that’s been bothering him on his new team.

“Wes really took it to heart,” Randle said. “Honestly, they saved me.”

Four months later, Rose became the Knicks’ new team president. Wesley and Payne soon followed.

With that heart-to-heart talk back in November still fresh on Wesley’s mind, he called up Randle.

“What do you need to become an All-Star? What do you need to lead this team,” Wesley asked Randle.

“One of the things that I really told him is [that] I need a coach who will hold me accountable, a coach who will push me,” Randle said.

Enter Tom Thibodeau, a no-nonsense coach who has built a winning culture founded on accountability everywhere he went but whose reputation has been hit because of the same demanding, old-school style.

But Randle and Thibodeau hit it off. It was a match made in heaven. Thibodeau was effusive in his praise. Randle used the past season debacle as his fuel. He reported to Thibodeau’s minicamp with his motor running on fumes.

“I really think that’s where me and Thibs, from the very beginning, hit it off,” Randle said. “He saw how serious I am about my craft. I know that’s how he is. He’s serious about his craft. He loves basketball. I love basketball. I want to get better. I want to improve. I want to be coached.”

Then Randle turned from being New York’s most unwanted to most beloved. The city craved for a star. Randle became one.

All because of his maniacal work ethic that perfectly matched with Thibodeau’s demanding style and culture of accountability.

“For me, it’s about winning. In this league, you have a lot of freedom in certain situations. One of the things I did last summer when the season was over was to look at my tapes. I didn’t want to,” Randle said.

He begrudgingly watched his tapes last season. It was painful to watch. But it was the only way to effect real change. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

”You look and see you’re getting away with things that you shouldn’t get away with,” Randle said. “Or you’re not being coached the way you should be as far as pushing me. And that’s what I told Leon, and that’s what I told Wes — I want a coach that’s really going to hold us all accountable for every night that we stepped out there on the court, that winning is the most important thing.”

That’s Thibodeau’s tenet. Winning is everything.

“That’s really what this team is all about. That no matter what’s going on throughout the season, whatever it’s thrown at us — injuries, tough schedule — we always found a way to win.

Randle and the Knicks went through hell.

From the long nights where he heard boos every time his spin moves turned into turnovers to the best nights of his life hearing chants of M-V-P at The Garden, Randle has come a long way.

Fate has a funny way of writing destiny. And Randle can circle back to that one fateful night in November.

“It just really came full circle,” Randle said. A year ago, at that start of the season, it was tough. A lot of things in the league are about opportunity and that kind of stuff. It really came together — coaching, opportunity, and the team and how we believe in each other, and how Thibs has everybody buying in.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks’ quiet NBA trade deadline reflects newfound stability

The New York Knicks approached the trade deadline the same way they did in the offseason. They operated with silence and guided by prudence.

For the first time in a long while, the Knicks roster has chemistry. Their overachieving group, which currently sits fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 23-22 slate, reflects the stability in the Knicks hierarchy.

“Leon and his staff did an unbelievable job,” New York coach Tom Thibodeau said in the aftermath of a quiet NBA trade deadline for the Knicks. “There’s a plan that was really well thought out. There were a number of possible opportunities and I thought they were really disciplined. We love the team we have. So it worked out well for us.”

Unlike his predecessors, Rose, the unassuming president of the most magnified NBA franchise, has successfully kept himself from a media firestorm.

But don’t mistake their silence for passiveness.

The Knicks did entertain and were active on calls. But even when there were tempting talents within their reach, Rose and co. showed restraint. It’s a refreshing change for a franchise that has long been known for knee-jerk reactions and irrational actions.

“For us, it’s building the foundation by going step by step. If something can help us, we’ll consider it and we did but it was very well executed. So I’m very pleased with that,” Thibodeau said.

They were linked to Evan Fournier, who eventually went to Boston Celtics for two second-round picks. The Knicks could have had him. But they stuck with their guns as Alec Burks continue to flourish and Reggie Bullock providing defense and outside shooting. Both players are outplaying their contracts and have cemented their spots in Thibodeau’s rotation.

When the Knicks are healthy, it’s tough to insert Fournier, who will have to learn and adjust to Thibodeau’s system while also thinking of his next contract.

Lonzo Ball was also on their radar, and the Knicks were active in the negotiation table until the 11th hour, Ian Begley of SNY reported. No deal was made. Perhaps it was too rich for their blood. But Ball will certainly get an offer from the Knicks in his upcoming restricted free agency.

Rose chose their present team chemistry over altering their DNA that might pose a risk to their team’s upward trajectory.

The Knicks only made one minor move: picking up two more future second-round picks for a couple of players out of their rotation. They dealt Austin Rivers and Ignas Brazdeikis in a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Oklahoma City Thunder that netted them Terrance Ferguson and Frenchman Vincent Poirier, who was waived, along with the additional draft capital.

Rivers became the ambassador of goodwill for the Knicks at the beginning of the season. And for a while, his run with rookie Immanuel Quickley in the second unit’s backcourt was fun. Too bad, the “Quivers” didn’t last long. Some good things never last.

Rivers fell out of the rotation once Derrick Rose, the former MVP, and a Thibodeau favorite, arrived.

“It didn’t work out. We have a situation in which we have a number of players and we didn’t have injuries. There was a period when we were shorthanded and I thought Austin played well. He’s been a good player in the league,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, we wish him well and we’ll go from there.”

The Knicks still have a cap space of nearly $15 million which they can use until the next Draft but cannot carry over to next season. Or they can use it right now to sign a free agent to fill up the roster spot vacated by Poirier.

They can make a run at Andre Drummond or sign any player from the free-agent market. Whatever the Knicks decide to do with their remaining cap space, expect that decision to be guided by prudence, a hallmark of Rose’s leadership.

On the day the Knicks were frantically taking and making calls, Thibodeau was in and out of their war room checking out on every possible Knicks trade while preparing his team for a rematch with the Washington Wizards later that night.

His mind was divided. But his heart wasn’t.

“Leon is very inclusive. Everyone has a voice and that’s all you could ask for. But I really respect and admire the discipline to follow the plan and to weigh everything out and determine if it makes sense or not,” Thibodeau said. “For us, it’s building the foundation by going step by step. If something can help us, we’ll consider it and we did but it was very well executed. So I’m very pleased with that.”

Thibodeau knew in his heart that he has the team that he can go to war with. The Knicks have the lowest payroll, but they have managed to stay in the middle of the pack of the bunched-up Eastern Conference.

Thibodeau did not say it directly but reading between his lines. He fought for this team to remain intact. He fell in love with this team, whose effort reflects his hard-nosed coaching.

“Their willingness to commit to play for each other, sacrifice to put the team first, come in every day. We know we have a long way to go. It will require more commitment and more sacrifices and more fight because you can see how bunched everyone is. You need some good fortune but you also need the willingness to play as a team. This team has demonstrated that all year and so we want to continue to build and see where we can go,” Thibodeau said. 

Later that night, the Knicks proved their coach right. They came back from as many as 17 points down to sweep their regular-season series against the Washington Wizards, 106-102.

“It’s great to understand the front office has confidence in us,’’ said Taj Gibson, the 35-yeard old third-string center who closed out the game with his splendid play. “But we got to continue to grow. It was a hard-fought win that showed the character of our team.”

How far can these Knicks go?

Thibodeau wants to find out. Rose and his front office agreed.

For the first time, there’s synergy within the Knicks organization. Out with the disfunction, in with the positive transformation. The once-moribund franchise is finally headed in the right direction.

Even with more than $50 million in cap space and a stacked draft capital this summer, expect the Knicks to operate the same way they did this season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

What could Andre Drummond cost the Knicks? Is he worth the price?

New York Knicks, Andre Drummond

With starting center Mitchell Robinson still on the recovery from his fractured right hand surgery, the New York Knicks have done their due diligence on Cleveland Cavaliers’ big man Andre Drummond.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Knicks have explored the possibility of adding Drummond, a four-time NBA rebounding leader and a two-time All-Star, for their playoff chase.

Charania added that the Knicks are mulling a multi-year deal to lure Drummond from going elsewhere. Title contenders Los Angeles Lakers and the Knicks’ crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets are believed to be potential destinations for Drummond should he enter a buyout agreement and becomes a free agent.

The Knicks, however, can also outright eliminate other suitors if they trade for Drummond, and it will probably cost them a second-round pick and/or two of three salary fillers from their expendable players like Austin Rivers, Frank Ntilikina, or even Kevin Knox. The Cavaliers are believed to be seeking an asset in return for Drummond.

But if the Knicks wanted to join the Drummond sweepstakes via buyout, what can they offer in a multi-year deal to pry him away from the minimum deal that comes with the glittery promise of a Larry O’Brien trophy in Los Angeles or Brooklyn?

Drummond’s market price

ESPN Front Office Insider and former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks gave us an idea of Drummond’s price range in the open market.

“He’s a $15-17 million player,” Marks told Empire Sports Media.

But he’s also skeptical if he’ll be worth it since he believes Drummond won’t be a major upgrade from Robinson.

“They are a first-round [playoff] team right now,” Marks said. And he answered with an emphatic “No” when asked if Drummond gives the Knicks a better shot of advancing deeper in the playoffs.

At a bare minimum, the Knicks can use Drummond as insurance for Robinson [if he’ll be out longer than expected] as they navigate the third toughest schedule in the second half.

Drummond averaged 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks in 25 games for the Cavaliers before he was shut down.

In contrast, Robinson was averaging 8.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 2.1 blocks before he went down with an injury last month. Backup center Nerlens Noel is averaging 6.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks since he took over from Robinson.

Risk-cost benefit

When Robinson comes back at full health, Tom Thibodeau would have more options.

If he wants to generate more offense from the post, he could roll with the more offensively-polished Drummond. But if he wants rim protection, Robinson could have more value on the court. This could make Noel expendable and move Taj Gibson further down the rotation.

Drummond will be a bigger weapon to have against Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo or the firepower-heavy Nets in a potential first-round playoff series. But as Marks suggested, Drummond won’t push the Knicks over the first-round hump.

However, the bigger concern would be the risk of drilling a hole in the already solid Knicks’ chemistry.

Drummond could eat into the Knicks’ lone post threat Julius Randle’s usage rate on top of potentially rubbing Robinson the wrong way. Unless the Knicks intend to flip Robinson into a major backcourt upgrade such as Lonzo Ball or in a larger package for an All-Star level guard like Bradley Beal or Victor Oladipo, Leon Rose and his shrewd front office could be on to something.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo