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Knicks at the All-Star break: How to finish season on positive note

Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina drives to the

Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina drives to the basket against the 76ers in December. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

The Knicks didn’t want to have to trust the process, but now they have no other choice.

After the All-Star break, they can really focus on playing and developing their young players. With their playoff picture having become more and more out of focus, they probably should have started doing that already.

Kristaps Porzingis’ season ended Feb. 6 when he tore his left ACL. The Knicks already had begun fading in the standings, but now they’re freefalling.

The Knicks (23-36) enter the break losers of eight straight and 22 of their last 28 games. They’re 7 ½ games out of the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot and five ahead of the Hawks, the team with the worst record.

It will be another important draft for the Knicks, and they can start trying to secure the best pick possible.


The Knicks have three point guards who are 19, 21 and 25 years old. Play all of them.

Rookie Frank Ntilikina, especially, and newly acquired Emmanuel Mudiay should get the bulk of the minutes, with Trey Burke also in the mix.

Jeff Hornacek promised a lineup change after the break. Jarrett Jack goes to the bench and should play only in case of emergency. Let the young kids play, and play through their mistakes. They need that.

The Knicks have to evaluate these young players — rookie swingman Damyean Dotson, too — to see if they’re part of the long-term future or someone to include in trades.


Ntlikina and Mudiay should play together — a lot. Start that way sometimes.

Hornacek played a small lineup when he coached Phoenix. The 2012-13 Knicks did as well in their 54-win season as Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd or Pablo Prigioni often started together.

Ntilikina and Mudiay are both listed at 6-5. Hornacek could play them with Tim Hardaway Jr. or Courtney Lee at small forward, depending on the matchup. See if that can be effective.

Ntilikina is the better defender and Mudiay is better at getting in the paint and creating. Both need to work on their jumpers, though. Ntilikina is shooting 35.3 percent from the field and Mudiay 39.8 percent.


Hornacek is a competitive guy and is trying to win games, perhaps to try to save his job. But it may be too late.

There’s no other explanation for Jack playing down the stretch in Wednesday’s complete collapse against Washington, when the Knicks blew a 27-point lead. Ntilikina didn’t play in the fourth and Burke didn’t play at all. It wasn’t the right decision.

Unlike last season, when former president Phil Jackson made Hornacek play the triangle offense, management has let him coach. But they need to meet and agree on a plan for the final 23 games. It should be all about developing young players and playing for the future and not worrying about the results.


It might not happen after Noah’s heated exchange with Hornacek, but the Knicks must raise his trade value to have any hope of moving him. They can’t if Noah is exiled.

If he shows he has something left, throw in a young player or a future draft pick, and maybe a team will take Noah and the two years and $37.8 million left on his contract.

The Knicks could buy him out and take the cap hit for two years, or stretch and waive Noah. That would cost them $7.56 million for five years. Both would impact their ability to spend in the important summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler can be free agents.


Some veterans should remain in the rotation and play enough minutes to impact next season, namely Michael Beasley and Lee.

With Porzingis out at least the first two months next season, and likely more, the Knicks will need scoring. They have to decide if Beasley is worth bringing back.

Lee is a solid professional and a Knicks co-captain. He has value, and if he continues playing well, it could help his trade value this summer. The Knicks want his contract, which has two years left, off the books by June 30, 2019.

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