GREENBURGH — Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle sat in a line, tucked together at a small table for Knicks media day interviews before departing for Charleston, South Carolina, and a week of training camp.
This season, there were no bold declarations like Barrett’s a year ago that the Knicks would shock the world. Instead, the team is picking up where it left off nearly five months ago, confident and focused on the task at hand.
That meant deflecting any questions about the deals that the Eastern Conference favorites, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, made in recent days to add to their talent base and shrugging off the quiet summer they’d gone through, adding only Donte DiVincenzo to the roster as a valuable player, but a bench piece.
The theme for the Knicks as they embark on this season is continuity — taking the group that reached the Eastern Conference semifinals last season and counting on improvement from within.
“I think the thing for us is the continuity of the team, but also adding Donte and then having the understanding that last year has nothing to do with this year,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And so you have to start all over again, we have to build a base, we have to get a baseline. We have to put the work in each and every day. And we have to do this together. Can’t do this individually. It has to be done as a team.”
The team is nearly the same, adding DiVincenzo and subtracting Obi Toppin, who was dealt for a pair of second-round draft picks. Barrett, one of the longest-tenured players on the roster, is only 23 years old. Quentin Grimes is the same age, and among the rotation players, only Randle is approaching 30. So it’s realistic to expect improvement, especially given that Brunson has completed a season in New York and Josh Hart is entering his first full season with the team.
“I’m very excited coming into this season,” Brunson said. “This group, we have a bunch of guys who love to work on their game, have great work ethic, all that stuff. We have guys we have to kick out of the gym. It’s not a problem for guys to work on their game. So I think that’s a plus for us.
“I think we all come back better, we all come back wiser. We understand the task at hand, what we need to do. It’s just getting better every single day. This is a great group. We have resilient guys and a lot of tough-minded, hard-working and great teammates.”
Thibodeau said he expects the starting lineup to remain the same, with DiVincenzo slotting into the second unit and providing shooting, defense and versatility. It’s not exactly what the Bucks are heralding with the arrival of Damian Lillard or the Celtics are dreaming of with the additions of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis.
“That’s perfectly fine with me,” DiVincenzo said. “Our focus is ourselves. Our focus isn’t what Milwaukee is doing or Boston is doing. Because you see every year — I was a part of a defending championship team last year. I joined [Golden State] and we struggled last year throughout most of the season on the road. But everyone had us winning the Western Conference and doing this and doing that.
“It’s about what you’re going to do day in and day out. That’s what our focus is. And that’s why I enjoy it so much. Everybody is communicating and we’re not focused on the championship or the Eastern Conference finals, we’re focusing on getting better and developing our habits because we know all those things come with good habits. And we’ll see at the end of the year the teams with the best habits are standing at the end.”