Julius Randle earns a few cheers, denies trade request
Last season, Julius Randle reveled in the adoration from the Madison Square Garden crowd once fans were allowed in, chants of “MVP” showering down on him as a reward for a job well done.
As he was introduced Wednesday night before the game began it was a chorus of boos that greeted him from the home crowd. This season, as Randle has gone from a second-team All-NBA player to a struggling and frustrated shell of that player, the response has been far different from the home crowd.
Randle turned the reaction to cheers early in the game, hitting his first three shots and then late in the game earning more applause with a no-look feed to RJ Barrett for a dunk and then a three-point play to keep the team in contention.
On this night he gave them what they wanted for much of the night — hard-nosed play, big shots. But he couldn’t give them enough for a win as the Knicks fell to the Hornets, 125-114.
Randle finished with 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds and still there were the jeers only for him. Randle dribbled out the final seconds on the clock and this time stayed around for hugs with some of the Hornets. That was far different from Monday when after a 1-for-9 shooting night the rest of the team celebrated a win and Randle flung the ball behind him and walked directly to the locker room.
The body language was awful. The cause or the effect was uncertain, but it was enough that a New York radio station claimed that, according to an unconfirmed report, Randle asked the Knicks’ front office for a trade following the game.
“Yeah, that’s not true, bro,” Randle said after Wednesday’s game. “That’s just not true. Simple as that, it’s not true at all. If it didn’t come from me it ain’t true.”
With the loss, coupled with Atlanta’s win over Oklahoma City, the Knicks saw their four-game winning streak come to an end and the magic number for elimination from the postseason reduced to one with five games remaining. The loss also ended any chance of catching Charlotte. Atlanta can eliminate the Knicks with a win Thursday night against Cleveland, which would put to rest a frustrating season for Randle, the Knicks and their fans.
Evan Fournier led the Knicks (34-43) with 30 points. The Hornets (40-37) were led by Miles Bridges with 31 points.
Randle, who has been at the center of much of the troubles less than a year after being celebrated, insisted it hasn’t changed his mindset.
“I’m cool. My goal and what I work hard for is to make the city proud, to make the fans proud,” he said. “I play for my teammates, I play for my family. It’s as simple as that, bro. Nothing more than that. From the inside looking out it is what it is. You know? I understand that a lot of times you’ve got to just let your game do the talking and go from there. Like I said, I love the city. My family loves it here. I’m a Knick. That’s what I love. I love being a Knick.”
The Knicks showed him the love as a reward for last season, signing him in the summer to a four-year extension worth at least $106 million. (Bonuses could raise it to as much as $117 million, but he’s likely lost some of those incentives already this season.) That contract, though not completely out of line for a player averaging 20.1 points, 10 rebounds and 5.1 assists, is just an added point of emphasis for the fans to gripe.
Wednesday, like most nights, his wife and young son were seated near the court, exposed to the sounds of this season, just as his son would join in and mimic the MVP chants last season.
“That’s probably where most of my frustration comes from,” Randle said. “I have my five-year-old son that’s there who is obsessed with the game of basketball, loves the game of basketball, and he doesn’t understand what’s going on. That’s probably my biggest frustration — coming from him. The time I sacrificed from him to put into this game. He’s daddy’s little boy. He loves his dad.
“So for him to experience that and him being uncomfortable and having to leave the games and stuff like that, as a father, that’s what bothered me more than anything. But at the same time, you have to understand it comes with the territory. The narrative can always flip. I understand that. I understand it’s New York City. I understand how passionate our fans are. You just kind of have to live with the good and the bad.”