LOS ANGELES — Kyle O’Quinn doesn’t like discussing his future, but the Knicks’ backup center made one thing very clear Thursday.
“I would love to be here for the rest of my career if I can,” the Queens native said after practice at UCLA.
O’Quinn has a $4.25-million player option for next season. When that is brought up by a reporter, he quickly dismisses it. But a popular opinion is that O’Quinn, who will turn 28 later this month, will opt out and try to get a more lucrative long-term contract after what has been his most productive and consistent season. He certainly should have options.
“I hope this is my best option,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn’s situation is similar to that of Enes Kanter. The starting center also has a player option for next season, but his is at $18.6 million. Both have professed their desire to stay with the Knicks long-term, but the organization doesn’t want to tie up too much money after the 2018-19 season.
The Knicks hope to have salary-cap room in the summer of 2019, when Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Kevin Love can be free agents. O’Quinn would cost much less than Kanter, but like Kanter, O’Quinn doesn’t have an agent right now.
His case could be one in which he gives the Knicks a hometown discount. O’Quinn, who is very close to his mother, has loved playing near his home the past three years after joining the Knicks in a sign-and-trade with Orlando.
“Being next to my mom is the best,” O’Quinn said. “Being next to my family, you can’t put no measure on that. The reality is you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t going to be in Orlando my whole career. Anything can happen. We’re open to anything. But [staying close to home], that’s a question you know the answer to.”
O’Quinn is averaging career bests in scoring (6.8), rebounds (5.7) and assists (1.8) in 16.9 minutes per game as Kanter’s backup after beating out Willy Hernangomez. The fans wanted Hernangomez to play, but O’Quinn is the far better defender.
The Knicks sent Hernangomez to Charlotte last month, securing O’Quinn’s spot as the No. 2 center for the rest of the season and perhaps next year also. “The trade deadline opened up an opportunity for me that I appreciate,” O’Quinn said.
Joakim Noah wasn’t really in the mix because he was suspended the first 12 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. By the time Noah was eligible to return, the Knicks were playing well and O’Quinn had established himself as a good complement to the more offensively skilled Kanter. O’Quinn is averaging 1.1 blocks per game.
“I had an open mind to whatever happened,” O’Quinn said. “You go into the season with four centers, to be honest, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You go to practice every day and fight for your spot. I found a way to find my way in that role.
“Not trying to say anything too good about myself, but I earned my spot.”
O’Quinn slimmed down after last season, cutting out carbs in the summer and meat altogether, and it’s helped him be more active defensively. Jeff Hornacek noted that he’s moving his feet better on defense and has been a more consistent player this season.
“He was a shot-blocker, but I didn’t necessarily consider him this great defender because he was just trying to block shots,” Hornacek said. “He’s worked on trying to get in front of guys and not always having to block the shot. A lot of times, that’s just as good.
“Our offense with some of our plays, with his passing, we can get easy layups. His overall improvement of his overall game got him that spot.”
Hornacek sounded as if the Knicks would be happy if O’Quinn opted in to his contract.
“Oh, yeah, we’d love to have him,” he said. “When contract things come up, I don’t deal with any of that stuff. He can opt out. The decision is kind of on him. But he’s done great for us. We’d love to have him back.”
Nothing new on Noah, Jack
Noah and Jarrett Jack had to be waived by midnight Thursday to be playoff-eligible for another team, but nothing was expected to happen with either player, according to a league source.
The Knicks would have had to reach a buyout deal with Noah, who has been away from the team since getting in a heated exchange with Hornacek on Jan. 24 in Denver. Noah has two more years and more than $38 million owed to him. Hornacek said there was “nothing new” regarding Noah. Last week, Hornacek said “the plan” is for Noah not to return to the Knicks. They could buy out Noah and stretch his contract in the offseason.
Jack said he had talked to his agent but didn’t sound as if he wanted to go anywhere, even though he isn’t playing now that the Knicks are employing a youth movement.
“It feels weird just leaving your guys and trying to go to another situation,” Jack said. “I understand selfishly how it would make sense. I like to finish with who I started with.
“[My agent] called me and did his job: ‘Hey, what do you think about possible destinations for playoff teams?’ I told him the same answer I told you. If it’s something that unbelievably comes up that makes sense, we’ll take a look at it. But I’m not pressing the envelope for it.”