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Knicks pick up Frank Ntilikina's fourth-year option with starting point guard job up for grabs

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina against the Washington Wizards

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina against the Washington Wizards during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 11, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — There was one bit of relief for Frank Ntilikina on Monday, when the Knicks announced they have decided to pick up the fourth-year option on his rookie contract. But if the off-the-court question was answered, there still was the matter of just what his role will be.

Ntilikina is under contract for this season and the extension adds a $6.2 million deal for the 2020-21 season. The team also picked up the fourth-year option on Dennis Smith Jr. ($5.7 million) and the third-year option on Kevin Knox ($4.6 million).

Does it ease Ntilikina’s mind? “Yeah, definitely off the court it does,” he said. “Of course, I’m thankful and happy about it to get this done. On the court, I’m still focusing on the first part of the season and first game. I’m excited about this year and this opportunity.”

Asked if this could signal faith that he can have a long-term future in New York, Ntilikina said, “Yeah, and I would be happy about it. It’s great here in New York to be part of this situation. It’s motivation and a big excitement. It makes me willing to give even more on the court on a daily basis.”

Ntilikina has yet to find a consistent role in his first two seasons or this preseason. Coach David Fizdale said the competition for the starting point guard job will go down to Wednesday night’s season opener, with Ntilikina, Smith and Elfrid Payton still battling.

Ntilikina is the best defender. Smith is the most explosive offensive force. Payton is entering his sixth season — and fourth organization, making him the most experienced of the trio — but also is the only one not under contract beyond this season.

“One of them has to take it,” Fizdale said. “That’s what these three days [of practice before opening night] are telling us right now.

“It’s the same thing for all of them. I’ve got certain particulars that I want from all of them, from that position, and they know what those demands are.”

Payton started the first two preseason games and Smith started the final two, but neither was able to show he deserved the starting job. Payton shot 0-for-9 in his second game after playing well in the opener. Smith shot a combined 3-for-17 in his two games after sitting out with a strained lower back in the first two. Ntilikina shot just 28.6 percent in his three games off the bench.

The battle for point guard minutes has seemed to leave Ntilikina out of the running for the starting job and instead hunting for minutes as a backup there and at shooting guard and small forward. He said he would like to start but insists whatever is best for the team is what all three want.

“We did a lot of work on the court together,” Ntilikina said. “I would say we bring each other to the top because we want our team good. We just want the Knicks to be great. We all have a great mindset. It’s a good thing.”

Notes & quotes: Taj Gibson did not practice because of a sore right calf but Fizdale said it’s possible he will be ready for Wednesday night’s opener.

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