GREENBURGH — Emmanuel Mudiay was among the last players on the practice floor as the Knicks worked their way through a practice session for the first time since last Thursday’s win in Atlanta.
Mudiay is ready to return to action and he is expected to play Friday when the Knicks take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Mudiay has been sidelined since January 23 when he suffered a strained left shoulder, missing 12 consecutive games. But it was more than just the time on the sideline that passed while he was in street clothes. The Knicks also made the trade that sent away Kristaps Porzingis and, most directly impacting Mudiay, brought back Dennis Smith Jr.
Mudiay had started 32 consecutive games at point guard before he was injured and has settled in as the starter at that spot. While Mudiay played well this season, Smith has the advantage of a contract that extends beyond this season, one of the few players that the Knicks can point to as a part of their future.
So what awaits Mudiay now?
“We’ve been talking about it a little bit but we’ll figure it out by game day,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “It’s been kind of that all year with different positions and different situations so we’ll figure it out.”
The summer was likely the end of his time in New York anyway unless he was willing to return on a low-cost deal. The Knicks are setting their sights on the free agent market with the ability to clear enough cap space for two max contract salary slot — as long as they renounce players like Mudiay, who has a $12.9 million cap hold.
For now, Mudiay said he isn’t worried about what the future holds, intent on just handling what he can control.
“I just want to play basketball,” he said. “That’s not my job. I’m going to let coach handle that however he wants to do it. I just want to have fun playing the game.”
It is actually nothing new as the Knicks started the season with Trey Burke as the starter, then went to Frank Ntilikina before settling on Mudiay. Ntilikina, like Smith, has a contract that extends beyond this season, but he remains a question mark, sitting out with a strained groin that kept him out of practice again Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated by team doctors Friday.
So Mudiay said he will play whatever role there is for him, including playing alongside Smith.
“No doubt,” Mudiay said. “Dennis is great at getting downhill, creating for others, and it just gives us two ballhandlers out there. Me and him have got a pretty good relationship already. He was in Dallas when I was [living] in Dallas. We saw each other. We played together a little bit.
“I’m just excited to play. Being out there with the guys today in practice especially was fun. First time playing with [DeAndre Jordan]. I’ve always looked up to DJ. He’s like a big brother. It will be fun to play for the first time with him. We practiced a little bit on the same team today, so that was fun. Just to get back out there with my brothers, I’m excited about that.”