GREENBURGH, N.Y. — On the practice court, Enes Kanter was absorbing the lessons of Rasheed Wallace as the one-time Knick spent the day working with the team’s frontcourt players.
After Kanter sweated through the hard workout, with Wallace loudly urging him on, the real lesson that he seemed to take most to heart is how to avoid saying what’s really on your mind. Like Wallace, who made a game out of answering nearly any question with a refrain of “both teams played hard” during his playing days, Kanter fell back time after time to “I’m leading the second unit.”
The uncomfortable questions for Kanter and the equally uncomfortable answers he fidgeted through regarded his role with the Knicks. An accomplished veteran, he has been removed from the starting lineup for the time being as the Knicks have fallen to five straight losses and a 1-5 record.
With the season already steering toward the predictable outcome of a rebuilding year, coach David Fizdale revamped the starting lineup before Friday’s game against the Warriors, pulling Kanter, Lance Thomas and Trey Burke and replacing them with Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson and Noah Vonleh.
“Yeah, he wants me to lead the second unit,” Kanter said, echoing the sentiment he relayed through pursed lips after the game. “That’s what I’m going to do, go out there and lead the second unit. Just keep leading them.
“Throughout my career I played both roles, I started, came from the bench. I’m leading the second unit.”
It’s hard to argue with Fizdale’s move. The Knicks are heading toward the lottery this season. Developing youngsters such as Frank Ntilikina, who started at point guard for the first time, and Robinson, a rookie big man, steers the team toward the future, and Kanter is a free agent at season’s end.
“I wouldn’t be happy about losing either,” Fizdale said. “I wasn’t happy either. And he’s got pride. He wants to come back. He sees himself as a starter too, and I understand that. I’m looking for combinations. He had a great practice today. He came to work. Brought good energy, was great in the film.
“Look, players are human just like the rest of us. For him to have certain feelings about things, there’s nothing wrong with that. But at the end of the day, it’s how we all respond to the situation, and he’s responded great.
“It’s a tough juggle. Yeah, for sure. But I’ve got to be up front with him and honest with him. We all understand where our team is at and what we’re trying to accomplish right now. One way or another, we do have to bring our puppies along. We need their help with that. They’re a big part of developing this culture and developing these young guys . . . So I really lean on them for that.
“But it’s always going to be a juggle from that standpoint of how much do you play the young guys but still keeping your veterans engaged and finding that balance, because you’ve got to develop these youngsters.”
Notes & quotes: Emmanuel Mudiay practiced and is listed as probable for Monday’s game against the Nets.