Enes Kanter still thinks Knicks have enough talent to win now
GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The NBA trade deadline is Thursday and the hot stove is reasonably warm in the Knicks’ universe. It’s no secret that they wouldn’t mind getting more athletic, and if general manager Scott Perry can find someone to take on part of Joakim Noah’s hefty contract (he is in the second year of a four-year, $72-million deal), it’s very likely the besieged big man will never wear a Knicks jersey again.
But with all the hubbub around a team that still thinks it has a chance to sneak into the playoffs, at least one player wouldn’t mind if things stayed exactly the same. Enes Kanter thinks the Knicks are good enough to win now. Anything else that happens, he said, is out of their control.
“I like every guy on our team,” he said Saturday, a day after a 92-90 loss to the Bucks that dropped the Knicks (23-30) to 7-21 on the road. “I would want to play with all the guys for the rest of my season and career because they’re just good locker room guys — besides basketball, they’re really just good guys off the court . . .
“I believe [this team can make the playoffs as is]. This team is really special. In the beginning of the season, people just weren’t believing in us, but I think this team can do some really special things. I think this team can beat any team on the court.”
Kanter is doing his part. After picking up Giannis Antetokounmpo on a switch, he couldn’t stop him from hitting a spinning, driving layup with 1.9 seconds left for the winning basket Friday night, but Kanter — who is playing with 18 stitches in his mouth — has averaged 18.0 points and 18.3 rebounds in the last three games. In the last five games, he is averaging 18.8 points and has shot 40-for-56 (71.4 percent) from the field.
The Knicks are 3 1⁄2 games behind the 76ers (five in the loss column) for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Granted, things with Noah are volatile, to say the least. The fourth-string center hasn’t been with the team for more than a week for “personal reasons” — likely the result of reportedly getting into an argument with coach Jeff Hornacek during practice. He’s not expected back until after the trade deadline, if then.
It’s been reported that teams have expressed interest in another Knicks center — 23-year-old Willy Hernangomez, who is slated to make only $1.5 million next season — as well as guard Courtney Lee.
“This is our team and that’s how we approach it,” Hornacek said. “I know it’s extremely hard on players during this time of year. Some guys, maybe veteran guys, have been through it year in and year out and they kind of know the drill. I always tell them, most of the time, if your name is out there in rumors, you usually don’t get traded, because the GMs and these guys, they’re trying to keep everybody quiet. You’ve just got to play, and it’s a hard thing. They’re all human and they’re all wondering.”
Either way, none of it is all that much fun. Kanter pointed out that he’s been traded twice and that it poses challenges for any player — both logistically and psychologically. The best possible approach is to disregard social media and try to keep one’s focus during a time of year when focus is hardest to come by.
“It’s tough because you’ve got to move all your stuff,” Kanter said. “You’ve got to pack and everything. You’ve got to go to a different city. It’s always awkward and weird. But it’s a business. It’s part of it. If it happens, it happens. If not, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.
“Let’s go out there and play basketball. Let’s have fun with our teammates. Don’t [focus] on what’s going to happen in the future, what’s happened before. Just, right now, you’re part of the Knicks and just go out there and have fun because you’re not going to play this game for a long time.”