GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The record is 0-0, a point made clear by Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau Friday when he dismissed the achievements of last season and insisted that the proving begins again this week. But it was hard not to feel that the Knicks had already recorded their first victory as players filed in to speak on the team’s media day sessions.
The Knicks arrived for Day One of camp fully vaccinated, nearly fully healthy and sounding very much on the same page of following up last season’s surprising success with the same sort of hunger and more talent. Most unusual for a franchise long steeped in dysfunction and on a day many voices around the NBA uttered odd and alarming COVID-19 misinformation, the Knicks were, to a man, on the same page and moving forward.
Pick a potential issue and the Knicks, at least today, had all the answers.
Maybe the first one to surface could have been the role of Derrick Rose, who was arguably the Knicks best player in the postseason last year. Kemba Walker was signed this summer, providing the team with another potent offensive talent at point guard. So what would the battle for minutes look like? Roll this potentially explosive situation into the middle of the locker room and what could happen? Well, on Day One Rose defused it.
"He’s starting. He’s starting," Rose said. "Whatever it takes to just change the game. I’m not worried about minutes or playing time or anything like that. I know Thibs is going to handle that. But I feel like we have a deep team. We’ve got guys at multiple positions that's versatile, that can switch 1 through 3. We’ve got guys that are selfless. I feel like we have a deep team.
"I’m on Year 14. Like I said, I’m appreciative to be here. He’s a starter. Coming in, he has a lot to prove, being from New York. You have to give him the stage, being that he’s from here. You have to give him the opportunity. It’s not nothing fighting for a spot. My job is to fill in, whatever the case may be. But I just have to stay ready. "
Walker said that, perhaps most importantly, his knee which limited him last season has been fine and he’s spent the offseason working on strengthening his legs. But he wanted to just fit in, same as Rose.
"That’s pretty cool," Walker said when Rose’s words were relayed to him. "For me, I’ve always been a huge D-Rose fan. Regardless, starting, not starting, whatever. it doesn’t even matter. I just want to win. And to have a guy like him, former MVP, a guy who’s been through it all, to be on the same team as him is really special to me.
"D-Rose is one of the biggest reasons I came here. I wanted to be around him, wanted to get a chance to see how he prepares himself every day. Just really get a chance to pick his brain as best as I can for my time here. I definitely want to build a special rapport with him, try to help him lead. I saw this team last year and the way he played and pushed himself. Hopefully, I can take a little bit of pressure off of him."
Whatever the role, the addition of Walker and Evan Fournier will certainly help the Knicks offensive production after last year’s quick playoff exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Last season it was Julius Randle and Rose who had to carry the offensive load much of the time. But with the newcomers as well as hopeful improvement from RJ Barrett in his third season the Knicks have an upgrade in talent. And with the return of many of the pieces from last season there is a core that is accustomed to Thibodeau’s work ethic and demands.
"I like it. I think it’s going to help us a lot," Randle said. "There are two good pieces that can help our team take a step forward. But everybody came back, rookies will help the team get better, continue to develop and take the next step forward as a team collectively.
"Evan and Kemba, those are guys you really have to account for on the offensive end. They can shoot, score the ball, make plays. Our biggest thing is we’ve got to continue to lock up every night, play defense. I’m excited about it. They’re obviously two experience, veteran players who have accomplished a lot in this league and I think it will be great for us."