Knicks Rumors

Knicks Notes: Walker, Barrett, Randle, Fournier

It sounds like Knicks guard Kemba Walker won’t see regular playing time unless he reclaims his starting job, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. Walker, who was pulled from the rotation earlier this week, didn’t leave the bench in this afternoon’s loss to the Nuggets, even as New York fell behind by 30 points.

“As I mentioned before when I made that decision, I view Kemba as a starter,” coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “… I do have respect for him, he’s part of the team. And right now we have a rotation, he’s not in the rotation but he’s working in practice, he’s doing all the things he should be doing.”

Walker, who hasn’t talked to the media since his demotion, has been a disappointment this season, even at the discount price of $18MM over two years. He’s scoring 11.7 points per game, down from 19.3 PPG last season with the Celtics, and his arthritic left knee limits his effectiveness on defense.

Neither Walker or backcourt partner Evan Fournier has lived up to what the Knicks expected when they pursued them in free agency. Multiple sources tell Bondy that Thibodeau urged the front office to keep Reggie Bullock, who signed with Dallas for $30.5MM over three years.

There’s more from New York:

  • Thibodeau believes RJ Barrett needs more repetition to fix his three-point shot, Bondy adds. After connecting at 40.1% from beyond the arc last season, Barrett has slumped to 32.1%. “You get rhythm when you work and last year he got going when he started coming in every night to shoot,” Thibodeau said. “So there’s no notion of, ‘OK, I’ll do it sometimes.’ No, you got to do it all the time. When you did it, you shot 40 from 3. So get back in the gym, get back to improving your shot.”
  • At 11-12, the Knicks are now under .500 for the first time this season, and Julius Randle believes the team has lost the defensive identity that it relied on last year, per Marc Berman of The New York Post“It’s who we are as a team, how we built this team and this culture is just fighting defensively, the togetherness, just the effort, the hustle plays,” Randle said. “I feel like that’s what the city of New York loves. That’s what the fans love — when they know we’re out there giving it our all. And I think sometimes we’re too lax.’’ 
  • Fournier talks about Thibodeau, some of his new teammates and several other subjects in a wide-ranging interview with Steve Serby of The New York Post.

Atlantic Notes: Knicks, Tatum, Fournier, Randle

Following Sunday’s loss against the Nuggets, the Knicks are now 11-12, good for the 11th-best record in the Eastern Conference and 5.5 games behind first place. After finishing last season fourth in the conference, the team’s sudden mediocrity is puzzling, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post contends.

“We have to understand we have to be more consistent and get guys healthy,” Julius Randle said, clearly not deterred by his team’s underwhelming start to the season. “But we’ll be fine. A great run could put us at the top of the East in two weeks. We just have to have a sense of urgency.” 

New York signed Kemba Walker to a two-year, $18MM deal in free agency, but head coach Tom Thibodeau recently pulled him from the rotation. Walker struggled defensively and the starting lineup had noticeable chemistry issues. The team has since started Alec Burks in his place, choosing to keep Derrick Rose in his role off the bench.

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic:

  • Celtics star Jayson Tatum dismissed the notion that he’s been playing selfish basketball, Jay King of The Athletic writes. A recent ESPN story from Tim Bontemps quoted an anonymous assistant coach who questioned how bad Tatum wants to win. “I laughed,” Tatum said when asked about the topic. “I think when people get upset or you get a reaction out of somebody, it’s probably because they feel like it’s kind of true. But I just laughed because I know it’s not true. I know my teammates, my coaches, anybody I’ve ever been around, selfish is the last thing.”
  • The Knicks will need energy from Evan Fournier to help turn their season around, Fred Katz of The Athletic writes. Fournier, who signed a multi-year contract to join the team in free agency, has started in all 23 games this season. He’s coming off a campaign where he averaged 17.1 points per game, splitting time between Orlando and Boston.
  • Speaking of Fournier, Peter Botte of the New York Post examines the recent disagreement between him and Randle that was caught on camera. The teammates engaged in a heated debate before halftime of the club’s loss to Chicago on Thursday. “It was a disagreement over I think the last defensive play about the double [team] and the rebounding,” Fournier said. “It was just frustration. But I think the key was it was communicating.” 

Kemba Benching Working So Far, Should Put Fournier On Notice

And-Ones: I. Thomas, Trade Candidates, Lin, Noel, Draft

Team USA only won one of two games in the first round of qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup this week in Mexico, but veteran guard Isaiah Thomas played against both Cuba and Mexico, leading the U.S. with 42 total points and 13 assists in 49 minutes across the two contests.

After putting up 21 points in Team USA’s win over Cuba on Sunday, Thomas reiterated his desire to get back onto an NBA roster, while leaving the door open to the possibility of playing in an international league.

The ultimate goal is to get back in the NBA,” he said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link). “I just love playing the game of basketball. So, obviously, at some point, if the NBA isn’t an option I’ve got to look at options overseas. … I love competing and I love playing.”

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • In the latest HoopsHype Podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan identified some potential trade candidates among the group of the players who will become eligible to be dealt on December 15 or January 15. Nuggets wing Will Barton, Pelicans swingman Josh Hart, Rockets center Daniel Theis, and a few Pistons veterans are among the players Scotto and Gozlan discussed.
  • Former NBA point guard Jeremy Lin has returned to the Beijing Ducks for another season, as EuroHoops relays. Lin, who has been out of the NBA since winning a title with Toronto in 2019, said in a statement that “playing basketball in China feels at home.”
  • After filing suit against his former agent Rich Paul, Knicks center Nerlens Noel now finds himself at odds with the players’ union. As Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic explains, the NBPA’s standard player agent contract states that disputes should be settled through arbitration, which Noel has circumvented by taking his issue with Paul to court.
  • ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (Insider link) updated their top-100 big board for the 2022 NBA draft on Tuesday and shared some insights on several college prospects. Auburn’s Jabari Smith made a significant impression on Schmitz, who said he was “blown away” by what he saw from the 18-year-old and considers him a potential dark horse to be next year’s No. 1 pick.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Walker, Kanter, Riller

Ahead of the Knicks‘ eventual 112-110 loss to their cross-town rival Nets on Tuesday night, New York All-Star forward Julius Randle praised Brooklyn All-Star forward Kevin Durant, per Peter Botte of the New York Post.

“He’s the best player in the league, for sure,” Randle raved on Monday. “[I’ve] never seen a 7-footer that skilled… [He can] do anything, everything, on the court. No weakness. That’s him. He’s tough. Great player, but I love competing against him.”

In an MVP-level season for the Nets, Durant is averaging 28.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.6 APG in 35.8 MPG, with a shooting line of .539/.389/.863.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • The demotion of Kemba Walker from starting Knicks point guard to a DNP-CD serves as clear evidence of head coach Tom Thibodeau‘s zeal to win, per Ian O’Connor of the New York Post. Though the move for the 31-year-old hometown hero may not be a popular one, Thibodeau knows it will help the club’s defense significantly. “I just don’t like the way we’ve been trending, the inconsistency of our team,” Thibodeau said. “I want to get bigger. I want our defense to get bigger at the point of the attack.” The six-foot Walker, never a good defender, has seen his efficacy on both sides of the ball decline following knee injuries while with the Celtics. Fred Katz of The Athletic notes that the disparity in points per possession when Walker plays as opposed to when he sits represents the difference between what would be the best defensive efficiency in the NBA (when he sits) and what would be the worst (when he plays).
  • Upon becoming a US citizen on Monday, Celtics reserve center Enes Kanter has officially changed his name to Enes Kanter Freedom, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN (Twitter link). “It was really important to me” to acknowledge the freedom that the Turkish native gets to enjoy as an American citizen, the freshly-anointed Kanter Freedom said.
  • Sixers two-way player Grant Riller injured his right shoulder during a contest for Philadelphia’s NBA G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats, this past Sunday, tweets Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Bodner adds that Riller’s health status will be reassessed in a week. The No. 56 pick in 2020 out of the College of Charleston, Riller has yet to appear in a game for the Sixers this season. The 6’2″ point guard is averaging 5.5 PPG, 2.3 APG and 1.5 RPG across four games for Delaware.

Knicks Have Reportedly Received Trade Inquires On Kemba Walker

After removing Kemba Walker from their rotation on Monday, the Knicks have received inquiries from three teams asking about potential trades for the point guard, sources tell Jordan Schultz of the Pull Up Podcast (Twitter link).

According to Schultz (Twitter link), it’s unclear whether or not Walker is on the trade block after signing a two-year, $18MM deal in the summer. A. Sherrod Blakely of Bleacher Report wrote last night that league sources believe New York will look to trade Walker, but it’s not clear whether those sources have any inside info or are just speculating.

Walker, who was an All-Star as recently as 2020, has been slowed by knee issues in recent years and was off to a slow start in his hometown this season. He averaged 11.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 2.6 RPG in 18 games (24.5 MPG) before being removed from the Knicks’ starting lineup and rotation.

Although Walker’s shooting numbers – including a .413 3PT% – remain solid, his defensive shortcomings have been especially glaring in New York. The Knicks have a 116.3 defensive rating and a -13.3 net rating with Walker on the court, compared to a 99.0 defensive rating and +11.2 net rating when he sits.

It remains to be seen how long the Knicks intend to keep Walker out of their rotation and whether he’ll benefit from resting his knees. If the team does consider moving him, it can’t happen yet — as an offseason signee, he doesn’t become trade-eligible until December 15.

Walker is under contract for another year beyond this season, but his $9MM annual cap hits would make him much easier to move than someone like John Wall, who is earning $45MM+ per year.

Knicks Pull Kemba Walker From Rotation

The Knicks are removing point guard Kemba Walker from both the starting lineup and their regular rotation, head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters on Monday (Twitter link via Fred Katz of The Athletic).

It’s unclear whether the change will be a short-term or long-term move, but Thibodeau said Walker is out of the rotation “as of right now.” Alec Burks will take over as the team’s starting point guard for the foreseeable future, according to Thibs (Twitter link via Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News).

The Knicks’ signing of Walker to a two-year, $18MM deal in the offseason after he was bought out by Oklahoma City was viewed as one of the summer’s highest-upside deals. After all, Walker had been a maximum-salary player and wasn’t far removed from making four consecutive All-Star teams.

However, while Walker’s .413 3PT% to date is a career high, he has failed to recapture his All-Star form, averaging a modest 11.7 PPG and 3.1 APG in 18 games (24.5 MPG). The 31-year-old, who has battled knee issues in recent years, has had his minutes managed for health reasons and has been a liability on the defensive end.

The Knicks have a 116.3 defensive rating and a -13.3 net rating with Walker on the court, compared to a 99.0 defensive rating and +11.2 net rating when he sits. Kemba isn’t the only New York starter who has struggled and isn’t entirely to blame for those numbers, but given how well Burks has played this season, a change at point guard made sense for the club.

Having signed a new three-year, $30MM contract with the Knicks in the offseason, Burks has averaged 10.5 PPG on .426/.451/.800 shooting in 20 games (22.3 MPG) so far in 2021/22 and has been a more reliable presence on defense. The team has a +5.2 net rating in his minutes.

Rotation Decisions May Be Looming For Knicks

Knicks Notes: Burks, Walker, Dinwiddie, Randle

Playing with a depleted roster, the Knicks got a huge lift from Alec Burks in Saturday’s win over Atlanta, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Making his first start of the season, the veteran swingman delivered 23 points as New York ended the Hawks’ seven-game winning streak.

Burks was called into service at point guard with Derrick Rose injured and Kemba Walker resting on the second night of a back-to-back. It was the latest in a series of strong performances for Burks, and Berman suggests that he may become a regular part of the starting lineup.

“We’re a great team and we have a lot of depth, so I believe I can step up at any time,’’ Burks said. “It was just my night tonight. … It’s the way we play. Anyone can handle the ball at any time. That’s (coach Tom Thibodeau’s) offense.’’

There’s more from New York:

  • Walker remains the Knicks’ starter at point guard, but he has rarely been playing in the fourth quarter, Berman notes in a separate story. Walker’s arthritic left knee is limiting him to 24.5 minutes per night, and Thibodeau is turning to Rose to finish games. As a result, Walker is averaging a career-low 11.7 points per game and the team is routinely getting outscored when he is on the court.
  • Some members of the organization wanted to make a play for Spencer Dinwiddie in free agency, Berman adds, but the team opted to sign Evan Fournier, then reached an agreement with Walker after his buyout with the Thunder. “They had to make a splash,’’ an unidentified team executive told Berman about the decision to add Walker, a New York City native.
  • The Knicks won’t be able to make a serious playoff run without a greater contribution from Julius Randle, states Ian O’Connor of The New York Post. Randle earned Most Improved Player honors last year while leading New York to the fourth seed, but he hasn’t been the same player since the postseason. He shot just 3-of-14 Saturday night, and his scoring and shooting percentages have declined significantly.

New York Notes: Aldridge, Thomas, Toppin, L. Rose

LaMarcus Aldridge made his first start of the season tonight, replacing Blake Griffin at center for the game in Boston, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Griffin has been struggling with his shot and Aldridge said he’s been having trouble adjusting to a reserve role, so the move seemed inevitable.

“Our spacing has struggled at times and also has hurt our pace a little bit,” coach Steve Nash said. “So we try to find different combinations that work and also that style of play. Keep pushing towards an identity. We’re not a team that can just iso and just play slow because we don’t have a ton of shooting out there. So if we’re going to play against loaded defenses, it’s going to be hard no matter if your name is Kevin Durant or James Harden. It’s just tough to go one-on-two, one-on-three with that picture.”

Aldridge has been an effective mid-range shooter throughout his career, which should open up more room for the two stars. He has been a strong contributor off the bench all season and is averaging 20.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in his last three games while shooting 57.1% from the field.

There’s more from New York City:

  • Cameron Thomas provided a spark for the Nets‘ offense in Monday’s win at Cleveland, but the rookie guard will have to remain patient for his opportunities, according to Chris Milholen of NetsDaily. “I think he’s a kid we all love and think has a bright future but sometimes these early stages in the season and you’re in tight games, it’s difficult with some of the mistakes that are just inevitable with these young guys,” Nash said.
  • Obi Toppin has become part of a productive Knicks bench in his second NBA season, per Peter Botte of The New York Post. Toppin is seeing regular playing time this year after averaging just 11 minutes per game as a rookie. “I’m not gonna say I got discouraged, just because I knew my time would get there,” he said. “I never show emotion a lot. I take it out on the court. … If I’m upset about something, run the floor and get an easy dunk or something, that’s gonna make me feel better. But I’ve never really showed emotion, like, I’m always the same guy. I have a lot of joy, a lot of excitement for this game, and I love playing in New York.”
  • If the Knicks don’t improve, team president Leon Rose and the rest of the front office should be blamed for not finding a better backcourt when they had $50MM to spend in free agency, contends Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. New York wound up with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, who have been bad defensively and haven’t jelled with the rest of the starters, Bondy states.