When the other interviews were completed after another disappointing performance Thursday night, a Knicks media relations executive came into the room and announced, "The team is not making Julius available." And with that, it seemed as if the Knicks hoped that absorbing the hit for Julius Randle might make all the problems go away.
But avoiding having Randle explain away the performance of the team (ugly) and his own play (confounding) will not solve the problems.
The Knicks have more issues than could be listed in this space right now, and the $25,000 fine that the league imposed on the team Friday for not making Randle available to the media for a seventh straight game might be the least of them.
Randle’s silence has left unsaid what exactly is bothering him — the feud with the Madison Square Garden fans, the $25,000 fine he got for his message to the fans in the last interview he did after a game on Jan. 6, or something else. But it has filtered onto the court in his play, which has been far from the level it was last season, and his frustration with officials in games.
How does Randle get out of this mess? Every misstep on the court is met with chants for Obi Toppin to replace him. Even if he plays well one night, the grace from the home crowd lasts only until the next struggle. A night like Thursday, when he shot 1-for-9, scored four points, turned the ball over three times and was hit with a technical foul, is not the answer.
And for Randle and the Knicks, the struggles could get worse. In a brief flurry with eight wins in 11 games, the Knicks provided hints that maybe, like last season, they were getting themselves in order for a second-half run. But with three straight losses, all at home to a trio of teams that hardly are world-beaters, and the schedule about to take a distinctly sharp turn toward trouble, the answers are hard to see.
The Knicks will host the Clippers on Sunday and then head to Cleveland for a back-to-back Monday. The trip will continue in Miami and Milwaukee, followed by a two-game return home against Sacramento and Memphis before a five-game West Coast trip.
That trip perhaps ominously overlaps the Feb. 10 trade deadline. Randle’s struggles are only a part of the issue.
"It’s easy to say that, but it’s really our entire team, and when things aren’t going our way, Julius is gonna take a lot of blame,'' coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He gets a lot of the credit, but that goes with the turf. But it’s a team game, and we didn’t get into it with any one individual.
"As I said, we have to get out of it as a team, and so I don’t think it was any one particular play or one incident. Things just weren’t going our way, and we gotta understand. That’s part of it. Sometimes things go your way. Sometimes they don’t. And when they’re not going our way, I just want us to be mentally tough and be able to work through it. And so, it’s a long game. It’s a long season. You gotta come in day after day and stick with your routine, stick with your routine."
The routine now might be the issue. Practices run by Thibodeau might be the routine to get the Knicks out of this. But the issues that have dragged Randle down, far too long the routine at the Garden, are not going away right now.
"The first thing is to know is that happens sometimes," RJ Barrett said. "Last week everything was great. It happens. You’ve got to stay even-keeled and working through it, know that you can always turn it around. You always have time left."