LONDON — As the Knicks and Wizards made their way through a Super Bowl-like gauntlet of media from across Europe, many of the questions were about the player who wasn’t here for the Knicks — Enes Kanter.
Just as the Knicks were arriving at the practice gym stories surfaced that the Turkish government was seeking to have Kanter, who already had an arrest warrant issued last year in absentia, extradited. His teammates expressed regret that he couldn’t be here, but had little else to offer about the strange political situation that forced him to remain in New York rather than risk what he believes was a threat on his life to come to Europe.
What the Knicks were left with was to move on without Kanter as well as without Kristaps Porzingis, another subject of interest from the throngs of media. For the Knicks, what they had was Mitchell Robinson, who they hope can return to action after missing the last 13 games — in which the team went 1-12.
Robinson practiced in full, testing his strained groin, which he suffered in Los Angeles while finalizing his recovery from a sprained ankle. The Knicks consider this his final test and as long as he rebounds well from the workout he will be in action Thursday when the team faces the Wizards at the O2 Arena.
The 20-year-old Robinson, a rookie who skipped college ball and has enjoyed the NBA travels bringing him to new experiences, happily greeted reporters with, “Top of the morning,” and noted that that phrase and "Cheerio" were new ones he’d learned and wanted to work in. But mostly he felt good just to be on the verge of playing in a game again for the first time in more than a month.
“I feel like I’m getting close if not there all the way,” Robinson said. “But I mean, hopefully practice good today and I play tomorrow and I’m going to be happy.”
"We’re going to evaluate it on how it reacts to the practice,” coach David Fizdale said. “But [in Wednesday’s practice] he’ll go full. Obviously I won’t play him in long stretches. Probably stretches of four, five minutes. I expect rust but we got to get it off of him. He’s missed a big chunk of the season — a very important chunk for his development. The faster we can get it off of him and get him playing, the better.”
Without Robinson, the Knicks' already porous defense has been awful, allowing at least 108 points in every game and giving up more than 120 points five times in the 13 games.
“I’ll definitely be able to add a little positivity to the team,” Robinson added. “I think our defense will be OK. We’ve got to talk better. Our communication can get low and I can bring that up and we should be fine.”
The return of the shot-blocking big man will help, but really, for the 10-33 Knicks the important thing is getting Robinson on the court for experience as they move forward to what they hope are better days.
“We just want to be able to evaluate that we got better,” Fizdale said. “We want to be able to look at that group and say, OK, who can move forward with us and who can really help us move to our ultimate goal of a championship?”