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Bulked up Mitchell Robinson not yet ready to go full tilt in camp

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks in front of

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson dunks in front of Wizards forward Deni Avdija during the second half of an NBA game on March 23 at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Vincent Carchietta

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Mitchell Robinson was happy to flex for the cameras Thursday, showing off the changes he’d undergone after spending the summer working out and putting on approximately 40 pounds from the 240 pounds he was listed at last season.

While that may be good for pictures, there remains no clear answer as to when Robinson will be able to see how the added muscle translates onto the court. The 7-foot fourth-year center was limited to just 31 games last season, first missing time with a broken hand and then shutting down for good with 26 games left in the regular season with a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot.

The team has begun training camp, but Robinson has been limited in what he can do, mostly working out on the side while the team conducts practice. He lamented the frustration at sitting out when the Knicks were in the postseason last year for the first time in his career and even now, he wants to test himself again.

"As a player, I think so," he said when asked if he could be ready for the start of the season. "Me. I need to listen to (the doctors). So I put my trust in them. Even though I know I want to go out there and play, I’ll be smart about it and I’m doing what they ask.

"I feel a whole lot stronger. My body feels better. I’m just going to see how it goes. I want somebody to hit me in the chest. I want to see how it feels."

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau took a more practical approach. The Knicks survived without Robinson last season, ranking third in defensive rating with Nerlens Noel filling in as the starting center and Taj Gibson providing toughness and smarts to make up for what he lacks in size. With those two back, Thibodeau sounded in no rush to risk a re-injury for Robinson.

"Just each day a little bit more," Thibodeau said. "He’s still working on conditioning, doing a little more basketball, doing small parts of practice. There’s a progression to what he’s doing. Eventually, he’ll be cleared to do all the non-contact, then we’ll start off with one on one, two on two, three on three, to the point where he can contact on. To go from zero to 100 doesn’t make any sense . . .

"We just want to make sure it completely healed . . . There’s really no timetable. When he’s ready he’s ready. And so we talk to the medical people every day, talk to Mitch to see how he’s doing and again I think it’s important for us to have big picture in mind with him."

This injury is a risky one for big men, often prone to breaking it again, and Robinson’s weight gain and his explosive leaping ability may add to that risk. Robinson said he has been doing light jogging and two-footed jumping but is taking it slowly.

There is one more complication for Robinson. He is in the final year of his rookie contract which paid him $6.5 million over four seasons as a second-round pick and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end if the Knicks don’t work out an extension with him before then. And then his status is even more uncertain because the Knicks do not have the ability to pay him more than other teams.

"I’m going to wait on my agent to talk to me about that," Robinson said. "I’m just focusing on getting back. I’m not really worried about that contract stuff. Whenever you want to tell me, this is what we’re going to do, then we’ll talk about it. But as far right now, I’m trying to get back to playing."

New York Sports