On a conference call Monday afternoon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was discussing the obstacles facing the league to start the season. And in his office in Westchester, Tom Thibodeau was working through his own obstacles to ready the Knicks to be a part of it.
The Knicks are set to debut this new incarnation of the franchise Wednesday in Indiana, and while Thibodeau may know exactly what his plans are, he wasn’t giving a hint — particularly about lineups that could include changes involving some of the younger players.
Immanuel Quickley impressed in the last two games of the preseason and Thibodeau hinted that the rookie will have a chance — like everyone else on the roster — to earn a spot in the starting lineup or rotation. The same goes for third-year player Mitchell Robinson, who is battling Nerlens Noel for the starting center spot. But Thibodeau wasn’t making any declarations yet.
"Every day after practice, we talk about the rotation," he said. "We have a pretty good idea. But that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Obviously, over the course of the season, you need everyone, and particularly this year under these circumstances, quality depth is important, and I feel like we have that.
"Everything is based off merit. You evaluate practice, who’s practicing well, what groups are playing well. Then you take that further with the games and you take that information. So if someone’s practicing well, that is important to us. Then when you have your preseason games, if they play well and the team is functioning well when they’re on the floor, that’s important as well. And that’s all you can do.
"I think you play the people you feel are going to give you the best chance to win. But you also have the understanding that over the course of an NBA season, everyone gets an opportunity."
The Knicks were nearly at full strength at Monday’s practice session with Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina back from the minor injuries that held them out of some of the preseason. Austin Rivers, who missed all four preseason games with a groin injury, remained out of action and the team is taking a slow, cautious approach with him. Omari Spellman (knee) also remained sidelined.
But even with the nearly full squad, Quickley is competing for minutes with holdovers Smith and Elfrid Payton. Even without fans in the building, he has been unable to avoid hearing the cries of fans on social media for him to get the job.
"Yeah, it’s been really cool to see. Just a blessing," Quickley said. "Thank God for the opportunity to be in New York and be a Knick. Just really looking forward to getting better, coming in each and every day and grinding and doing something special with a special group. So I’m glad I’m here.
"You always look for opportunity wherever it is. You try to come in and work hard. Even at the point guard position, I feel like I have guys that I learn from each and every day. Dennis Smith and Elfrid, they’re showing me little things that I can get better at. Just having a great group around me has really helped me transition on the floor as well as off the floor."
Payton, who started the first three preseason games and much of last season at point guard, said of Quickley’s preseason performance: "I don’t think he surprised any of us. We know he’s talented. Coach has been doing a good job of preparing us, getting us ready in practice, knowing what the other team is going to do. So it’s not really surprising. He put in a lot of work day-in and day-out. So no surprise."