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NBA Insider: Knicks’ Arron Afflalo handling bench role like a professional

New York Knicks guard Arron Afflalo reacts after

New York Knicks guard Arron Afflalo reacts after sinking a three-point basket against the Atlanta Hawks in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Arron Afflalo would rather start than come off the bench, but the veteran shooting guard is handling it like a professional.

Afflalo is still playing heavy minutes since interim coach Kurt Rambis decided to make him a reserve six games ago, hoping to add more scoring to the second unit. Afflalo figured that was the reason, although he said Rambis never told him personally.

“I guess it’s just my job to be professional and give the team whatever they feel is necessary at this moment,” Afflalo said.

Rambis started Sasha Vujacic when Afflalo missed two games with an abdominal injury, and hasn’t switched back. Afflalo had started the previous 56 games he played. Rambis says he’s doing this to find more “balance” with his units.

The Knicks signed Afflalo to a two-year, $16 million deal, but he can opt out this summer. He was asked how it would affect his decision if the Knicks told him they would want him in the same role next season.

“It’s one of those things I’ll have to weigh in June,” Afflalo said. “But hopefully an entire body of work is looked at on both ends. We’ll just have to assess that whenever that time is.”

Of course, the Knicks could have a different coach so this is a fluid situation. Afflalo didn’t rule out returning. One reason he signed with the Knicks was to play with Anthony and that still appeals to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “There are always great opportunities across the league and this is still one. Playing with Melo and helping this franchise progress.

“Obviously it wasn’t the ideal season we were looking for but it is a progression from last year. So we’ll just see how things shake out, what changes are made, what moves are made and go from there.”

Afflalo has played his role, providing the Knicks with offense when they needed it. He’s third on the team in scoring, averaging 13.4 points per game, and ranks eighth in the NBA among shooting guards with a 45.3 shooting percentage.

With the salary cap set to rise this summer, it could be a very good time to be a free agent.

“You want to be at your best at this time financially,” Afflalo said. “I’ve had some good moments, some bad moments but it is what it is. You take it for what it is and you see what’s available financially and team-wise and go from there.”

If Afflalo opts out, the Knicks could have around $25 million for free agency, but they also would have another hole to fill if they can’t re-sign him.

The Knicks already need better shooters, athletic wing players and versatile guys who can play both forward positions. They also could be in the market for a coach, but that doesn’t count against their cap.

Warm thoughts

Anthony may have ruffled some feathers in New York when he said if he were to play with LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade someday, “you want to go somewhere warm.” That means Miami or Los Angeles, and it makes sense.

It’s hard to imagine Wade leaving Miami. But if he did, playing in Los Angeles is plausible. His wife, Gabrielle Union, is an actress. Anthony’s wife, LaLa, has been in movies. All four players have places in Los Angeles.

James was the one who started this talk when he told Bleacher Report he hopes to play with his three good friends before their careers are over. James and Anthony are making it seem like it’s years down the line.

But if they want to be together at their top of their games, to compete for a title, it would have to happen sooner than later. And it may mean Anthony having to waive his no-trade clause if it were to happen.

Wade is having a great year, but he’s 34 and has been injury prone. Anthony will be 32 and has felt the effects from last year’s knee surgery.

Wade is a free agent this summer. James can opt out this summer. Paul can in 2017 and Anthony in 2018. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Walking in Memphis

Few teams have had to deal with injuries to key players the way the Memphis Grizzlies have this season, but they still should make the playoffs. Sitting 13 games above .500 on March 11 set them up nicely.

Between trades and those injuries, the Grizzlies have suited up 27 different players this season, causing Matt Barnes to tell ESPN.com, “With all due respect, sometimes I don’t know . . . the last names.”

Marc Gasol was lost for the season on Feb. 8, Mario Chalmers on March 10, and Mike Conley has been sidelined since March 11 with an Achilles injury.

The Grizzlies are 41-32, and in fifth place in the West.

They have been relying on veterans Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Barnes, Vince Carter, Lance Stephenson and some stopgap players, including onetime Laker and Net Jordan Farmar. He had been out of the league until being signed to a 10-day deal recently and helped the Grizzlies pull out a win Monday against Phoenix.

“Normally when you have this many fill-ins and D-League players, it’s for a team that’s not competing for (anything),” Barnes said. “The fact that we’ve been competing for a spot and been maintaining if not gained ground, you’ve got to take your hat off to those guys who have come in and played.”

Coachella

Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Boston’s Brad Stevens and Portland’s Terry Stotts are all deserving of strong consideration for Coach of the Year.

Clifford, the former Knicks assistant and Adelphi coach, is the hot name right now. He continues to get the most out of the Hornets and has them playing strong defense. After winning 33 games last season, Charlotte is 41-31 — one-game out of fourth and 1 ½ behind third-place Atlanta in the East.

The Celtics have no superstars, yet Stevens has them 42-30, one-half game out of third. The Blazers lost four starters from last year’s team and is last in the NBA in payroll, and Stott’s team is 37-36, in sixth place out West.

Steve Kerr (Luke Walton) has the Warriors flirting with the best record ever. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich’s team is having another brilliant season and has seamlessly added LaMarcus Aldridge into the mix. You can’t overlook them. They’re in the mix as well.

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