GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The league couldn’t have scripted it any better if it tried. After all, when the Knicks were scheduled to take on Oklahoma City on the road in their first game of the season, Carmelo Anthony was still a New York resident, Enes Kanter hadn’t been traded, and a plethora of juicy storylines had yet to be born.
And now? Well, now the question is exactly how Anthony is going to respond to these rebuilding Knicks. A day after The New York Times reported that Anthony said he was “pushed out” by the organization, will the super team’s new power forward drop 20, 30, or 40? Against a Knicks defense that struggled spectacularly in the preseason, it all seems possible.
“Who knows?” said coach Jeff Hornacek when asked if he thought Anthony would try to pile on. “I think, probably just like anything else, there might be some of that, but they also have to work on how they’re going to play. It’s the first game of the year. Everyone had short training camps, so I’m sure they’re probably just trying to get into their flow and how they’re going to play throughout these games, so it’s probably a combination.”
Though Hornacek was asked about Anthony’s comments to the Times — Anthony also said he had no support from the organization — the coach demurred and said it was best to ask Anthony about how he felt about his tumultuous final season with the Knicks. “We’re just moving on with the guys we have,” he said, adding that the Knicks’ primary goal is improvement, whether small or significant.
As for players like Kanter, who spent 2 1⁄2 seasons with the Thunder, and Doug McDermott (half a season), the reunion will be “a little interesting,” Hornacek said. Kanter fully agreed. He expects to be cheered, he said, but he also expects it to be emotional.
“I had an amazing time with all those guys, going to war together . . . but when the game starts, you just go out there and play your game,” he said. “It’s going to of course feel a little awkward; I’m going to feel a little nervous in the beginning.”
Kanter will also no doubt have a larger role than he did as a bench player with the Thunder. Though he’s aware this season will take on a far different identity than what he’s used to, he said the thought process was largely the same. Joakim Noah, who dropped in the rotation after Kanter’s acquisition, has been of significant help, he said.
Noah told him, “I want you to take the next step,” Kanter said. “I want you to go to the next level defensively and he’s been there for me, helping me a lot defensively, talking to me on the court, off the court, he’s really been trying to help me. He’s one of the most respected guys in the NBA — he has 11 years in the league, he knows a lot, he has a lot of experience.”
Knicks react to Hayward’s injury. Both Kanter and Hornacek responded to Gordon Hayward’s gruesome injury with assurances that Hayward would be back better than ever. Hayward broke his ankle in the opening minutes of the Celtics’ first game of the season Tuesday night in Cleveland. “It’s terrible,” said Kanter, a former teammate in Utah. “I prayed for him last night because that’s a really tough injury, but I know his mindset, I know he’s really strong mentally and I feel he’s going to come back even stronger. I have no words, man. I feel terrible. You couldn’t say anything, you just pray for him.”
Notes & quotes: Frank Ntilikina said his knee is healed and he fully expects to be able to play on Thursday . . . Hornacek said he would not play younger players just for the sake of playing them, rebuild and all. “We’d like to get them more experience to grow, but we’re not just going to throw them out there,” he said. “We have some veteran guys on this team that are trying to lend their experience. We want those young guys to grow and if they grow into those positions where they get big minutes, then so be it.”