Scott Perry says the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay because they needed more talent, and that it was not an indication that they have lost confidence in rookie Frank Ntilikina.
The general manager said he spoke to Ntilikina on Friday and that the 19-year-old remains a part of the team’s future.
“We are in the talent-acquisition phase of our roster and our team,” Perry said during a conference call. “No, the organization is not down on Frank. He’s excited about adding to the team as well. I think everybody here is committed to us figuring out ways to get better moving forward. So he’s fine.
“It’s part of the NBA. If you want to become a good team, eventually you’ve got to add talented players to our mix. That will help our cause moving forward. This isn’t in any way a negative reflection on him and who we think he’s going to be and who he has an opportunity to be. He’s a 19-year-old kid who has some very good tools and a lot of upside.”
Mudiay, who was acquired from Denver in a three-team trade Thursday, is expected to join the Knicks at practice Saturday. He could make his Knicks debut Sunday in Indiana.
Mudiay gives the Knicks three point guards who are 25 or younger, including Trey Burke. Perry anticipates that Jeff Hornacek will play two of them together at times and that it will lead to a healthy competition and the growth and development of all three.
The Knicks sent Doug McDermott to Dallas and a 2018 second-round pick to Denver for Mudiay. They hope a change of atmosphere will be just what he needs after his production and playing time dropped significantly since his rookie season two years ago.
After being drafted seventh overall in 2015, Mudiay averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists in 30.4 minutes during his rookie year, playing in 68 games with 66 starts. This season, he has averaged 8.5 points and 2.9 assists in 17.9 minutes and has played in 42 games with no starts.
“I think he’s wiser for his experiences in Denver,” Perry said. “This is kind of a new lease on life for him. I think he’s really excited about the opportunity. He wants to embrace it. The fact that he brings some athleticism and ability to get in the lane with some size and make plays not only for himself and other people, he will get an opportunity to blossom here.”
The Knicks (23-33) are six games out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot and six games ahead of the last-place Atlanta Hawks. They have dropped 19 of their last 25 games and lost Kristaps Porzingis for the season with a torn ACL on Tuesday night, but Perry said it’s not yet time to start giving the young players extra minutes.
Perry still wants the Knicks to try to be competitive and for the young players to earn their minutes. That could mean Jarrett Jack will continue to start at point guard. But Hornacek will have to find time to play Ntilikina and Mudiay together and evaluate their future.
Each is 6-5. Mudiay is stronger and a better penetrator and Ntilikina is the better defender.
“I can see them playing alongside one another,” Perry said. “I mentioned the importance of adding some more athleticism to our team, adding some more ballhandling to our basketball team. I think it will help each one of these guys, really. I’m excited to see how it manifests itself on the court. But I think there’s some promising options that could lie here.”
Perry gave no indication of when or if Joakim Noah will return to the Knicks. They were unable to trade Noah, who has been away from the team since having a heated argument with Hornacek in Denver two weeks ago. They could try to buy him out or stretch his contract and waive Noah.
“He’s not coming back right now,” Perry said. “We’ve reached this mutual decision, so he’ll be away until further notice.”
Perry acknowledged that the Knicks have a lot of work to do to become a good team. Their plan is to continue to add young athletes and try not to do anything that affects their ability to be spenders in the 2019 free-agent market.
“It wasn’t going to be an overnight turnaround,” Perry said. “We’re going to continue to add talent. We’re going to continue to make moves that are very prudent not only from a talent perspective but managing the salary cap. We have a plan in place to get there.
“I hear what you’re saying from the fan base enduring a lot of tough years. But I’m excited and invigorated as ever that we’re going to be able to get where we want to get. We’ve got to just stay the course. We’re not going to try to do something short-term to jeopardize our opportunity to build a sustainable team.”