Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett took their places on a stage beside Walt Frazier in Manhattan on Monday night. They were there to promote their place in the Puma sneaker line, but the best lesson from Frazier had nothing to do with sneakers or fashion.
When he was asked about the upcoming season, the Knicks’ long-time TV analyst presented a warning to the young players.
“Obviously, I was disappointed we didn’t get a big superstar, but I like the Plan B,” said the former guard, who guided the Knicks to their only two championships. “I like the players we have signed. There’s a lot of talent there, a lot of versatility. It’s going to put pressure on these young men. Guys that they paid $15 million or so think they’re going to start.
“I think that’ll help [Knox and Barrett] elevate their games. You can’t take it for granted just because they were high draft choices they’re going to start.”
Knox, who went through a 17-65 season as a rookie, said he has added muscle to his 6-9 frame and will bring a tenacity to this season that he didn’t have a year ago.
Much of the team, including the seven new free agent acquisitions that the team turned to after coming up empty on the stars in the market, has been gathered for scrimmages in New York, and Knox said the tone is different from last year.
“Very competitive. Very competitive,” he said. “We’ve just got guys now that are going out, playing hard, talking trash, all scrimmages long. Even though we’re one big family, smiles and stuff after, in between those lines, it’s a totally different team than last year. You can just tell the whole tenacity that we’re playing with in the scrimmages.
“I see it definitely carrying over to the court for this season. We’ve had really good scrimmages, got a lot of guys going at each other. That’s something that we want. We want to definitely go at you on the court. When we’re playing other teams, be connected as one, be able to play hard for one another.”
Said Barrett, “We got dogs.”
Still, after trading Kristaps Porzingis and gambling in free agency, the Knicks saw the stars pass on the chance to join the team, watching as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving opted for the Nets.
“You’ve got people always saying the Knicks and the Nets,” Knox said. “Of course they got two superstars. That’s just fuel to the fire for us. Like [coach David Fizdale] told us all in a group message, put your head down and just go out and play hard for one another. That’s kind of been our motto this whole summer.
“Our goal is to go at each other in practice and then when you go against somebody else, go at them, no matter who’s in front of you. That’s been our mindset this whole summer. Fiz just basically has been feeding us all motivational stuff, just keep your head down, no media, social media, Instagram, none of that. Go out there and play for one another.”
Frazier hopes the group of players the Knicks added in free agency will bring a defensive mindset, one that he insisted was the key to his championship seasons. He also added that of the first title in the 1969-70 season, there was an amendment to the Finals Game 7 win over the Lakers.
“They call it the Willis Reed game and I call it [expletive],” he said with a smile. “Willis inspired us, hit the first two shots. I had 36 points, 19 assists, four steals, sold hot dogs at halftime. I had the game of my life.”