The current hot topic in the NBA is the amount of rest afforded to stars as their respective contending teams gear up for the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Knicks (27-43), their stars don’t have those first-world problems.
Head coach Jeff Hornacek, however, may begin sitting key players more often in the remaining 12 games as a way to better evaluate the fringe players. Carmelo Anthony was pinned to the pine during the fourth quarter of Monday’s blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, as New York was down 25 points at the time. Anthony didn’t see any action in the fourth quarter, and not just because it was a laugher. Unlike teams like the San Antonio Spurs (54-16), Cleveland Cavaliers (46-23) and the Golden State Warriors (57-14), there are very few stars on the Knicks who need to rest up for a deep playoff run. Yet, Hornacek almost certainly will dig deep on the bench and call on players who customarily are right next to him on the pine.
New York really only has two stars, Anthony and forward Kristaps Porzingis, so look for their understudies to get more playing time, as the team heads into its fourth-straight year without making the playoffs. Porzingis, especially, should be handled with care considering he’s the future cornerstone of the franchise and has battled injuries to his Achilles, ankle and thigh throughout the season.
Anthony may have to get used to the view simply because of his age (33) and the fact he may get moved this offseason. The Knicks would be wise to protect their investment in case the All-Star forward finally relents and removes his no-trade clause. The embattled Anthony, just one day after publicly allowing the notion that his time in New York may be up, informed the media that he was in fact told by Hornacek that there’s likely going to be a minutes restriction as the season closes. Anthony said following Tuesday’s practice that Hornacek reasoned that his minutes will reduce in the final dozen games as to get a “closer look” at the fringe players, including the six rookies on the roster.
The white flag was unofficially waved weeks ago, but with the team now owning the seventh-worst record in the league, it’s clear the resignation has finally been made public by the team — and starting to be accepted by Anthony and the rest of the players.
“I think coach is starting to realize it,” Anthony said of the team shifting its priorities down the stretch. “He did mention that he’s going to start shortening minutes. I understand.’’
Anthony gets hammered by the media, his boss and pockets of fans for many things, but he’s always had the competitive fire to compete and be accountable to his team and fan base. He’s started all 68 games in which he was available, and except for a sore shoulder that cost him a December game against Golden State, Anthony has made it his business to be there for his team nightly. This acquiescing of minutes is surely burning him deep inside, but he’s been the model teammate and noted he’ll continue to be so.
Hornacek said it’s likely the more notable players will begin sitting out games, particularly the second leg of back-to-backs. The Knicks only have two more opportunities of back-to-backs — tonight in Utah and tomorrow at Portland, and April 6-7 with a visit from the Washington Wizards followed by a trip to Memphis.
All the resting may sit well with guys like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but for Anthony, he said he’d rather play out the string. But at the same time, he’ll dedicate the rest of the season to being a model citizen, not rocking the boat, and being a strong role model for the younger guys who will siphon his minutes.
“My role won’t change as far as helping guys out. When I’m out there, I’ll play. When I’m not, I’ll help everyone else. I’ll still come in here and get my work done,” Anthony said, pumping up the young guys like forward Willy Hernangomez, center Marshall Plumlee, and point guards Chasson Randle and Ron Baker. “All the young guys, it’s an opportunity to get that experience instead of getting practice experience [and] individual workouts. It’s good, actually getting it live and direct in a game against top-level opponents. It’s best to take advantage of that and for me to help them.’’
- For the record, Anthony said he’s fine with coaches resting their star players with eyes on the bigger picture. But he also understands the pressure Commissioner Adam Silver is trying to apply to teams to do otherwise: “I’m not against guys sitting out. The problem [Silver has] is TV games [and] ratings. It’s a money game.’’
- Hornacek, a former Jazz star who’s had his jersey retired, will be honored by the team before tonight’s game, as the organization holds a 20th reunion for the 1996-97 team that made the NBA Finals — a squad that lost to Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls. Knicks assistant, Howard Eisley, will also be among the honored — a roll call that’ll also include Hall of Famers John Stockton, Karl Malone and their legendary head coach Jerry Sloan.