LAS VEGAS — Frank Ntilikina stood courtside at the Thomas and Mack Center as the teams warmed up for the Knicks’ second Summer League game Sunday night against the Suns, exchanging hugs and handshakes with the handful of familiar faces from last season’s team and an assortment of team officials.
But just how long they actually will be teammates has seemed a mystery through the summer. After Ntilikina’s two seasons of struggling with injuries and finding a role, there were rumors around the NBA that the Knicks were willing to trade him for a draft pick but could not find a deal on draft night.
Ntilikina insists, however, that he is still here and happy.
“Yeah, definitely. I’m happy to be a Knick,” he said. “I still take as much as I can get from every situation that I can. I’m in their jersey. I’m happy to be a Knick. I’m happy to be here. I’ll work very hard to make this situation successful.”
His tenure with the team has been filled with obstacles, starting two years ago after he was drafted No. 8 overall by the Knicks and couldn’t play in the summer league because of a knee issue. Then a preseason injury put him out of action at the start of his rookie season. At 19 years old, he never fit in for since-fired coach Jeff Hornacek as the team started one journeyman after another ahead of him.
With a new coach last year in David Fizdale, he had a fresh start and similar results. He began the season starting at small forward, then found himself behind Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay and finally Dennis Smith Jr. Injuries again sidelined him at times, including a groin issue that ended his season on Jan. 27 — before the trade for Smith and the departure of Kristaps Porzingis.
The Knicks traded Burke and let Mudiay walk as a free agent, but they signed Elfrid Payton in free agency, putting Ntilikina in contention for minutes again with Smith and Payton — each of whom thinks he is going to be the starter.
“They would’ve signed players [anyway],” Ntilikina said. “We’ve got a lot of experience, so it’s going to be good for us just to make us — it’s going to be competitive. That’s what we want at the end of the day. We’re going to learn from each other and of course compete with each other. It’s not going to be easy for everyone.
[The workouts] have been going great. I’ve been there working out, focusing on getting back healthy and improving. It’s been going well so I’m happy about it. I’m trying to get into a good rhythm. I’m healthy. The summer is going -- I’m working a lot. I’m happy with where I am right now. So I have to keep on working my best to improve to be the best player I can be at the end of the summer.”
Ntilikina has spent much of the summer in Dallas working out, and the Knicks have sent assistant coaches there to monitor his workouts at times. He also switched agents over the summer, leaving CAA and going with Bouna Ndiaye.
“It is important like every season, like every day of my career,” he said. “So I’ll take it as a really exciting season, really exciting for me. After those two seasons, I want to prove something to myself, so I’ll do everything just to make it really successful.”
Notes & quotes: The Suns beat the Knicks, 105-100, in overtime. Ignas Brazdeikis scored 30 points and tied the score with a three-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation. Mitchell Robinson added 17 points. RJ Barrett had eight points and 10 rebounds but shot 3-for-15 and had eight turnovers . . . Allonzo Trier was scheduled to start for the Knicks but was ruled out with an illness.