Dennis Smith Jr.

Knicks Notes: Knox, Fizdale, Smith Jr., Randle

After leading the Knicks in minutes as a rookie last season, Kevin Knox is finding playing time harder to earn, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. His starting job has gone to veteran Marcus Morris, who signed a one-year contract this summer and needs plenty of court time to earn his next one. In addition, Knox’s defensive issues have eroded some of coach David Fizdale’s confidence.

“I let him know why,” Fizdale said of the reduced minutes. “We got candid relationships around here. No one’s got thin skin. He and I have been through a lot together already. He knows where I’m coming from. He knows I want the best for him and I’m going to continue to challenge him. He can accept the challenge. … Like I said, his offense has taken that step forward, now I’m pushing his defense to take that step forward.”

Knox was on the court for less than nine minutes last night and about 10 minutes Wednesday. It’s a difficult adjustment for a player who seemed to be part of the foundation for the future after being selected with the ninth pick last year.

“It was tough, but it was something that had to be done,” Knox said at Friday’s practice. “Fiz made the decision so I just made sure I was the best teammate on the bench, made sure I was cheering my guys on, keeping my guys up. I didn’t want to sit at the end of the bench and sulk and cry and just have an attitude because I wasn’t playing. So I had the right mindset going in. Came in the next day, got my work in, watched film on what I need to get better at so when my opportunity comes next time I can be able to produce.”

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Last night’s debacle against the Spurs won’t help Fizdale keep his job, observes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Fans booed loudly as the team left the court with a 25-point halftime deficit in the worst performance since Fizdale was put on an apparent 10-game alert at a post-game press conference by president of basketball operations Steve Mills on Nov. 10.
  • Expectations have fallen for Dennis Smith Jr. since he was acquired from the Mavericks in January, but he is still struggling to meet them, Berman adds in a separate story. A preseason back injury and a two-week absence from the team for a funeral have slowed his progress.
  • Watching free agent addition Julius Randle wear No. 30 is a reminder that the Knicks should have retired Bernard King‘s number a long time ago, contends Mike Vaccaro of The New York Post.

Atlantic Notes: VanVleet, Shumpert, DSJ, Knicks

Fred VanVleet became a household name among NBA fans during the Raptors‘ championship run last spring, and particularly during Game 6 of the Finals, when he knocked down five three-pointers. That success has now carried over to the 2019/20 season. As Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes, VanVleet is proving to the Raptors and to the rest of the league that he’s capable of being a starting point guard.

VanVleet has started all 11 of the Raptors’ games so far, first alongside Kyle Lowry and now in Lowry’s place at point guard as the veteran recovers from a thumb injury. VanVleet has made 40.6% of his three-pointers in those 11 games, and his 17.1 PPG, 7.6 APG, and league-leading 38.5 MPG would all easily be career bests.

With 2020’s free agent class expected to be quite weak, VanVleet – who is in the final season of a two-year, $18MM deal – projects to be one of the top point guards available. He won’t be eligible for an extension before reaching the open market, so the Raptors will almost certainly have to ward off rival suitors next summer if they intend to lock up VanVleet beyond this season.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • After the Nets signed Iman Shumpert to a contract on Wednesday, Chris Milholen of NetsDaily explores what the veteran swingman is capable of bringing to Brooklyn and why he’s a “safe” addition for the club.
  • The Knicks considered sending Dennis Smith Jr. to their G League affiliate in Westchester for some low-pressure minutes after he spent two weeks away from New York, but ultimately opted not to do so, per head coach David Fizdale. “We thought about it, but we just felt like it wasn’t an injury that took him out,” Fizdale said Wednesday, per Greg Joyce of The New York Post. “It was more from a conditioning standpoint. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna play him, try to play him in smaller doses to get him back in shape.”
  • How did the Knicks end up in their current dilemma, with Fizdale on the hot seat and top front office executives facing similar pressure? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst revisits the franchise’s last year and a half, starting with Fizdale’s introductory press conference back in May 2018, providing a blow-by-blow account of the turning points during that time.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, Randle, Smith, Bullock

The vultures are circling in New York. After a blowout 120-102 defeat to the lowly Bulls, the 2-9 Knicks are still reeling from press conference comments made by president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry on Sunday. Head coach David Fizdale‘s days in New York appear to be numbered.

On ESPN’s SportsCenter today, Adrian Wojnarowski speculated to Stephen A. Smith that a Fizdale firing felt like a fait accompli. Wojnarowski elaborated, noting that Fizdale could be the first member of the New York brain trust to be shown the door by owner James Dolan amidst this disastrous — though hardly surprising — start to the Knicks’ season.

Marc Berman of the New York Post postulates that Fizdale could be gone within the Knicks’ next 10 games if they don’t make a drastic improvement in the win column. ESPN Insider scribe Kevin Pelton suggests that the Knicks front office leaders, who were so quick to blame Fizdale for stumbling out of the gate, need to recognize the limitations of the team’s disjointed roster.

There’s more from New York:

  • About that roster — one of the Knicks’ best backcourt prospects, Dennis Smith Jr., has missed seven of the team’s past eight games due to the death of his stepmother. He returned to action yesterday, scoring zero points on 0-for-3 shooting from the floor. Once Smith settles in, the Post’s Greg Joyce thinks that his presence could positively affect the team’s dire point guard situation. Frank Ntilikina remained the starter yesterday in Chicago, but Smith could be a helpful scorer and facilitator in a bench capacity. Elfrid Payton, the starting point guard when the season began, remains out of commission with a hamstring injury.
  • An NBA personnel man who spoke to Marc Berman believes the Knicks are making a tactical mistake in treating Julius Randle like a No. 1 option. Berman observes that Randle, a good scorer and the team’s highest-paid player, lacks the chops to be a good team’s lead ball-handler. Fizdale himself addressed the big man’s decision-making, as Ian Begley of SNY reports. “For him, we’re just trying to build that habit of having more balance and when you decide to go and when you decide to work with getting someone else involved,” Fizdale said.
  • The Knicks’ depleted backcourt could eventually get some more help in the form of shooting guard Reggie Bullock, whom the team signed to a two-year, $21MM contract over the summer. According to Chris Iseman of NorthJersey.com (Twitter link), Bullock has been progressing in his rehabilitation enough to partake in non-contact drills in team practice. He will be re-evaluated in early December. Bullock, a career 39.4% three-point shooter, underwent surgery for a cervical disc herniation in July.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, M. Jackson, Ujiri, DSJ

Asked today about his reaction to an ESPN report that suggested team president Steve Mills is laying the groundwork to eventually fire him, head coach David Fizdale told reporters that he talks every day with Mills and GM Scott Perry, and that they’ve been supportive of him (Twitter links via Ian Begley of SNY.tv). However, it doesn’t sound as if Fizdale hasn’t received any specific assurances about his job security.

I got a two-and-a-half year contract,” Fizdale said, per Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). “That’s my assurance. That’s our business. The assurance is that I have a contract.”

According to Begley (video link), Knicks ownership isn’t expected to have a “heavy hand” in the team’s head coaching decision. Any move involving Fizdale would be made solely by Mills, says Begley.

As we wait to see what’s next for Fizdale and the Knicks, here are a few more notes on the team:

  • Chris Mannix of SI.com tweets that Mark Jackson is a name to watch if the Knicks make a head coaching change, since Jackson is a Perry favorite who was a candidate before the team hired Fizdale in 2018. Sean Deveney of Heavy.com identifies Kenny Smith, Chauncey Billups, Mike Woodson, and Tom Thibodeau as others who could emerge as candidates in that scenario, while Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) mentions Jason Kidd.
  • In response to a report that the Knicks may pursue Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri again next year, Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets that he doesn’t believe Ujiri would ever want to work for Knicks owner James Dolan under any circumstance.
  • While the Knicks have been criticized for their return in last season’s Kristaps Porzingis trade, the club remains hopeful about Dennis Smith Jr.‘s long-term prospects and those two first-round picks coming their way, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “We don’t know what Dennis Smith is going to be,” Fizdale said. “He’s 21 years old. We’ve still got two first-round picks out of that. Who knows who that’s going to be? We won’t know exactly what comes out of that for a year or two.”

Knicks Notes: Porzingis, Ntilikina, Payton, Garland

Despite the stance taken by the front office since the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Knicks weren’t forced to deal their 24-year-old star last winter, writes Steve Popper of Newsday. Porzingis may have made a trade request, but he had limited leverage for getting out of New York. A restricted free agent over the summer, Porzingis could have signed an offer sheet with another team that the Knicks would have had the option to match or he could have accepted New York’s one-year qualifying offer, a risky proposition considering his injury history.

Either choice would given management more time to make the changes in team culture that they have been discussing. Plus, they had the advantage of giving him more money and a longer contract than anyone else could have offered.

The Knicks’ return makes the deal look especially bad. The $70MM in cap space that the trade opened up was used on short-term contracts for complementary players after the top targets signed elsewhere. Dennis Smith Jr. has been in and out of the point guard rotation and doesn’t look like a future star. DeAndre Jordan, whom the Knicks hoped would help attract his close friend, Kevin Durant, wound up joining Durant in Brooklyn. That leaves New York with two future first-rounders as the payment for dealing what was supposed to be their foundation player.

Porzingis, who will make his first trip back to Madison Square Garden this week after facing his former team Friday, told reporters that the situation could have ended differently. “Of course, of course. Of course,” he said. “As I said, I have nothing negative to say, it’s in the past. I’m grateful for those years that I spent in New York. It’s a great experience.”

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Frank Ntilikina seems firmly established as the team’s top point guard after a breakthrough performance in Dallas, observes Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. The 2017 lottery pick had 14 points, six rebounds, four steals and three blocks as the Knicks grabbed a rare road victory. “Frank looked great,” Porzingis said. “… I know his work ethic, his mindset. I’m happy to see him play and play well and show the things he’s been capable of doing.
  • Ntilikina’s emergence leaves the future of the team’s other point guards in doubt, notes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Elfrid Payton, who will miss his sixth straight game today with a hamstring issue, is looking like a questionable signing considering his history of health problems. Smith, who rejoined the team Friday after being away 11 days following the death of his stepmother, has shot a combined 1 of 11 in his last three games.
  • With the Cavaliers in town today, the Knicks will get a look at Darius Garland, whom they were considering taking if they had been able to find a deal to move back in the draft, Berman adds in a separate story.

Knicks Notes: Smith, Ntilikina, Morris, Barrett

Dennis Smith Jr. has become the scapegoat for Knicks‘ fans in an 0-3 start, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Smith turned in his third straight ugly performance last night in the team’s home opener, missing all three of his shots in 11 minutes and falling to 1-of-11 for the season. He was 3-of-17 in two preseason games after returning from a back issue. Fans booed loudly when he was in the game and started a “We want Frank” chant in the second half, referring to little-used guard Frank Ntilikina.

Smith is being singled out because he was the key piece the team received in the January trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. Porzingis has recovered from a torn ACL and is averaging 23.5 PPG in his first two games with the Mavericks. The trade also gave the Knicks enough cap room to sign two max-level free agents, but they missed on their top targets, further angering their fans.

“Our fans are passionate. I get it,’’ Fizdale said of the reaction to Smith. “The kid is obviously struggling. We’ll look at the situation and continue to adjust. (The fans) know what they like and what they want. It doesn’t do anything to my mindset. I’m going to coach this team.’’

There’s more this morning from New York:

  • Fizdale told reporters that Ntilikina will eventually get a chance to earn playing time and hinted that a shooting slump is keeping him out of the lineup, Berman adds in the same piece. The 2017 lottery pick has been on the court for three total minutes this season. “It’s three games in,’’ Fizdale said. “It’s not like 20 games into the season. But other guys will get opportunities. That’s how it will work. You either perform and get it done or you’re not. (Ntilikina is) overthinking it and pressing it. He’s mentally tough and he’s struggling right now, but he’ll find his way out of it.’’
  • Marcus Morris had an unusual free agent experience this summer, verbally committing to the Spurs before switching to the Knicks when they made a better offer. However, that could have been avoided if the Celtics had tried to keep him, tweets A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. “I guess that’s the business,” Morris said. “I thought I at least deserved a phone call, but it is what it is.”
  • At age 19, RJ Barrett looks ready for any challenge, including a game-deciding battle with Kyrie Irving, observes Steve Popper of Newsday.

Knicks Notes: Point Guards, Fizdale, Irving, Trier

Two games into the season, the Knicks‘ point guard situation remains as confused as ever, writes Greg Joyce of The New York Post. Elfrid Payton earned a start Friday night after a strong performance in the season opener, but rookie RJ Barrett was used in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Barrett posted 16 points and six steals to help lead a comeback, but finished the night with five turnovers and only three assists.

“It was good. I feel like I can do that,” Barrett said of handling the point. “Coach trusts me. He has a lot of faith in me.”

Dennis Smith Jr., who appeared to be the point guard of the future when he was acquired from the Mavericks in the Kristaps Porzingis trade nine months ago, played just 4:31. Frank Ntilikina wasn’t used at all.

“(Smith’s) still in a struggle,” coach David Fizdale said. “I just gotta figure out how to get him out of it. I think he’s just overthinking things a little bit, but we’ll figure it out.”

There’s more from New York:

  • Fizdale continues to work through different combinations, which should be expected on a team with nine new players, observes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. The lack of cohesion was especially apparent on defense Friday as lapses enabled the Nets to hit 15 of their first 30 shots from beyond the arc. “We have depth, we’ve just got to get them all to play on the same night and get them clicking on the same night,” Fizdale said. “But that’s going to take time obviously. We’ve had three weeks together. But the fact we have the kind of grit that doesn’t lay down, those are two playoff teams we lost to on the road that we had a chance to win those games.”
  • The Knicks-Nets rivalry appeared more heated than ever after a pivotal free agency summer for both franchises, notes Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who were thought to be New York’s top targets, both wound up in Brooklyn, and the Nets gave away Irving jerseys last night to emphasize the point.
  • Allonzo Trier doesn’t believe Irving’s comments about taking over New York City were meant to be inflammatory, relays Marc Berman of The New York Post. “It wasn’t about the Knicks. It wasn’t about anything like that,” Trier said. “I didn’t take anything personally. Kyrie is a really good friend of mine. We spent a lot of time (together) in the summer. Great guy.’’

Knicks Notes: Point Guards, Rabb, Morris, Robinson

Nobody in the three-way battle for the Knicks‘ starting point guard spot played well enough to earn a start in tonight’s season opener, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina were all on the bench for the beginning of the game in San Antonio as coach David Fizdale opted to use rookie RJ Barrett at the point alongside Allonzo Trier.

“I just like that combination of RJ and Allonzo Trier to be out there,’’ Fizdale told reporters before the game. “The competition is still on and I’m still searching for combinations that are going to fit. Coming into this, I want to see how that looks. I’m going to keep putting it on them to really have to earn it and really force me to play you. None of this is in stone, but at the same time the competition is on.”

Payton, Smith and Ntilikina all struggled in the preseason, especially with shooting, while Trier stood out with an improved jumper. Berman suggests the decision could be seen as a slight against the front office, which signed Payton this summer and picked up Ntilikina’s fourth-year option earlier this week.

There’s more from New York:

  • Fizdale has previous experience with Ivan Rabb, who was signed today to a two-way contract, Berman notes in a separate story. Fizdale was Rabb’s first coach as a rookie in Memphis, although he was fired after 19 games. “Good kid, hard worker,” he said of Rabb. “Really skilled big. Rebounds the ball well. A high-IQ player. It will be good to get back with him and develop him.”
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich remains bitter about Marcus Morris‘ decision to back out of a commitment to San Antonio this summer and sign with the Knicks instead (video link from RJ Marquez of KSAT in San Antonio). Morris verbally agreed to a two-year, $19MM deal with the Spurs before changing his mind when New York was able to offer $15MM for one season. As expected, the San Antonio crowd booed him loudly before tonight’s game.
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a look at how Mitchell Robinson was able to overcome a negative college experience and provide some hope for the future in New York.

New York Notes: Wilkes, DSJ, Durant, Dinwiddie

The Knicks initially expected to fill their second two-way contract slot with undrafted rookie Kris Wilkes, but health problems will prevent the former UCLA wing from joining the team at this point, as head coach David Fizdale confirmed today.

He got ill,” Fizdale said of Wilkes. “He came down with a serious illness. I don’t know what it was but it was pretty severe.”

The Knicks waited until the start of the regular season to sign a second two-way player alongside Kadeem Allen, presumably taking as much time as possible to see if Wilkes might re-emerge as an option. Instead, the team is signing former Grizzlies forward Ivan Rabb to fill that open two-way slot.

Here’s more on New York’s two teams:

  • Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has signed with Roc Nation for representation, he announced this week (on Twitter). Smith, who will become eligible for a rookie scale extension during the 2020 offseason, will be repped by veteran agent Raymond Brothers, tweets Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal.
  • Appearing on Serge Ibaka‘s YouTube show, Kevin Durant explained why he chose the Nets over Knicks when he decided to make the move to New York as a free agent. “I just liked the organization as far as the direction they were going in — a bunch of young guys that played in the playoffs before,” Durant said, per Marc Berman of The New York Post. “The Knicks players, they‘re good young players but they still need more experience to match where I was in my career. It was nothing major against the Knicks. I just think Brooklyn is further along in the process of being a contender.”
  • Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie left Monday’s meeting with the NBA feeling good about where things stand with what he’s calling his Professional Athlete Investment Token (PAInT), per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “They had four or five comments previously, we got them down to one,” Dinwiddie said. “I think we’re going to get it done. It’s just pending a little more feedback.”

Knicks Exercise Options On Ntilikina, DSJ, Knox

2:01pm: The Knicks have made it official, announcing that they’ve picked up the 2020/21 options on Ntilikina, Smith, and Knox.

12:31pm: The Knicks will exercise Frank Ntilikina‘s fourth-year option for the 2020/21 season, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link). The team is also picking up its fourth-year option on Dennis Smith Jr. and its third-year option on Kevin Knox, as expected, tweets Steve Popper of Newsday.

Of the three option decisions, the one on Ntilikina was the only one that was up in the air leading up to the October 31 deadline. The former eighth overall pick has been somewhat underwhelming in his first two seasons, averaging 5.9 PPG and 3.1 APG on .354/.305/.735 shooting in 121 games (21.6 MPG) for the Knicks.

However, Ntilikina had a strong showing for France in the 2019 FIBA World Cup last month and has been more aggressive on offense for New York this preseason, as Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic detailed last week. As such, the Knicks were willing to lock in his $6,176,578 cap hit for the 2020/21 season. The 21-year-old is now on track to reach restricted free agency in 2021 if he doesn’t sign an extension next year.

As for Smith and Knox, those option decision were simpler ones. Smith, who was selected one spot after Ntilikina in 2017’s draft, will count against the cap for $5,686,677 in ’20/21, while Knox will have a $4,588,680 charge.

We’re tracking all of the decisions on 2020/21 rookie scale team options right here.