MILWAUKEE — Quentin Grimes had been simmering for days, leaving the postgame locker room before the door even opened to the media, quickly exiting morning shootaround and avoiding taking a platform for what was on his mind. But after the one-sided loss to the Bucks Tuesday, he let it out.
Another night in which he’d barely touched the ball, spending the game chasing Damian Lillard around the court and then pulled shortly after misfiring on his only shot attempt, he spoke his frustration with his role — the limited touches, the one-and-done shot opportunity and the decreasing minutes. And he was just the latest in a growing line of players struggling to come to terms with their place on the Knicks and in coach Tom Thibodeau’s system.
Recently, it was Josh Hart who had spoken of the struggles to find his rhythm when he was limited to a catch-and-shoot role, standing and waiting for a three-point opportunity. Before that it was Evan Fournier who found himself buried on the bench. Cam Reddish and Obi Toppin both had their moments of frustration before being dealt away.
And the reality for Grimes, like those before him, is that there is no real easy answer other than to buy in or find a new home. The roster has created a logjam, talented wing players and guards limiting some minutes and the three ball-dominant offensive threats for the team — Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett — leaving little chance for the other players.
“He has a hard job, a tough role,” Randle said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of trying to get him better looks, make him feel more included, for sure.”
It took one loss, elimination from the In-Season Tournament to spoil the good feelings that had permeated the Knicks in recent days. Like any team though, not everyone is included in the celebration, and it’s a balancing act to keep those players happy enough to play their part.
Unless a trade sorts out the roster or Thibodeau makes a lineup change, it is what it is. And all of the rumors of a star chase have to be measured with the reality — where would those minutes and shots come from unless the Knicks are sending out one of those three main pieces. Grimes has been counted on for his defense in the starting role. But Donte DiVincenzo, signed as a free agent in the summer, has absorbed some of that role, too, while also finding ways to create scoring chances for himself on the other end.
“I feel like I just got to get more shots,” Grimes said. “You can’t get out of a rhythm unless you shoot the ball. So I feel like I’m coming in and I know I’m probably only going to get one or two shots and it’s going to be tough because I’ve got to make them or I know I’m coming out. So it’s tough like that, but you can’t let that dictate your whole game. I feel like I didn’t have to let that dictate my defense. So it’s tough but I know it won’t last forever.”
Thibodeau has spoken repeatedly of the need for players to sacrifice to fit in with what is best for the team. Could he work in a scripted chance for Grimes or give him some more time with the run-and-gun second unit?
The bigger issue is that while the team has played well, they have done it with three main players dominating the offense and as much as Thibodeau will preach, “Let the game tell you what to do,” it relies on isolation, dribble-heavy play by all three of them.
“I look at how the unit is functioning,” Thibodeau said after Tuesday’s loss. “And so, I would say tonight, we didn’t play well and to put it on Quentin is not fair. I don’t think we really had anyone who played really well. So, we’re capable of a lot better. You win together; you lose together. Just focus on the improvement and getting ready for the next game.”