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Mario Hezonja wants to extend his Knicks career beyond this season

Despite intermittent playing time, the first-year Knick says 'I love New York' and the work the coaching staff has done with him.

The Knicks' Mario Hezonja reacts after dunking against

The Knicks' Mario Hezonja reacts after dunking against the Bucks during the first quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 1, 2018. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y.  — As the Knicks finished their first practice back home after a long road trip, Enes Kanter, the subject of trade talks, was absent, with the team reporting that he had left with an illness.

The coach of the struggling team, David Fizdale, was missing because of what the team called a personal matter.

What might seem dysfunctional for most teams was just another day for the Knicks. They went through their workout without their head coach and with Kanter departing early. And when it was over, Mario Hezonja proclaimed his love for New York and his desire to remain a part of the organization after his contract is up at the end of the season.

When it was pointed out that his future is uncertain, he said, “I know. You guys don’t.”

It was an enthusiastic take from Hezonja, who played one of his best games of the season with 19 points and six rebounds in the Knicks' 122-95 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday night. While he has averaged 28 minutes and 16.5 points per game in the last two games, in the seven games before that, he played a total of a little more than 20 minutes and sat out four of the games completely.

But he insisted that even when he has been put on the bench, it hasn’t changed his feelings for New York.

“No, no, no. I love New York. As I said, this coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” said Hezonja, 23, who joined the Knicks on a one-year deal after being chosen fifth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft —- one spot after the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis — and spending his first three seasons with the Magic. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. 

“Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. Even when I wasn’t playing, I just said how important they were for me and how much room I still have for growth, for learning the game and all that stuff, so it’s big time for me. I love this team. I love everybody over here. I was surprised as soon as I came here. I’m focusing only on here. This is not a typical BS talk: ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

Of course, Kanter has said that, too. After he expressed his dissatisfaction with a reduced role on a 10-31 team, a source confirmed an ESPN report Wednesday that the team is talking with Sacramento about a possible trade of expiring contracts, with Zach Randolph possibly returning to the Knicks. 

Notes & quotes: Frank Ntilikina, who suffered a sprained right ankle against the Lakers last Friday and has missed the last two games, worked out on the court, running and cutting. He said he still is doubtful for Friday night’s game against Indiana, though.”I feel better every day and am making improvements, so I’m happy about it,” Ntilikina said. “I was able to do some workouts, where I was moving pretty good. We’re going to see how it is the next few days, if we make some more improvement . . . Still doubtful [for Indiana]. We’re going to see how it is [Friday], still doing treatments to make it better.”

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