Attitude is Everything
If you what to know why the Knicks’ season has been a disappointment thus far, you only need to look at how their leader Julius Randle has been playing. All the Knicks’ issues start and end with Julius because for better or for worse he is the closest thing the Knicks have to a star.
The fans can accept if his shot isn’t falling, but what they can’t forgive is a bad attitude and a lack of effort. So for as long as Julius Randle is the Knicks’ best player, the team’s success will be dependent on his mindset.
But part of the issue is that Knick fans don’t understand why he looks so miserable. I don’t pretend to have inside information, but what I can tell you is that part of it is understandable. You only need to look back at the Laker game in Los Angeles.
The Laker Game
The gut wrenching loss to the Lakers was a microcosm of the season. Flashes of greatness combined with inconsistent focus and execution. Every Knick got up for the game against the Lakers because they are the premier franchise in the NBA with two of the game’s best players. Beating L.A. means a lot to New Yorkers because they have achieved a status that we wish our hometown franchise had. So aside from excitement, those Laker games stir up extra emotional that turns into frustration and envy when the Knicks lose.
But for as much as the game meant to the Knicks and their fans, it meant more to Randle. That is because it’s personal for him. That is why you saw Randle play with the passion that hasn’t been their for most of the season. Maybe that is why Julius broke the Knicks assistant’s laptop in the huddle.
Remember the Lakers are the team that drafted him. That is why he always plays with a little extra motivation when he faces them, especially when the game is in Los Angeles. It’s not because he wants to, but because he needs to prove them wrong for giving up on him.
To better understand why Randle looks so frustrated and disengaged at times you need to understand his back story. When Randle was in high school he was considered by many experts to be the top player in the country. After playing one season at the premier college program, Kentucky, he was drafted 7th overall in the 2014 draft. The only reason he slipped to 7th was because there were injury concerns about his foot which many teams thought would require surgery.
Los Angeles Lakers
When Randle arrived in L.A. in 2014 he was suppose to be the initial building block of the next-gen Lakers. I imagine he looked up at the rafters in Staples Center and thought he was going to be the next great Laker, his #30 jersey hanging next to Magic’s #32 and Kareem’s #33.
But 14 minutes into his 1st NBA game he broke his leg, an injury that caused him to miss the rest of his rookie season. Then his 2nd season had to take a backseat to Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour. Instead of the Lakers using that season to develop their two lottery picks, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell, they decided to run the offense through a 37 years old that shot 35.8% from the field.
Despite the rough start to his career Randle improved in his next 2 seasons. In his 4th and final season with the Laker he played all 82 games and averaged 16.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg. His coach Luke Walton begged Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to resign him, but they didn’t consider it since they were signing LeBron James.
New Orleans Pelicans
After being dumped by the Lakers for cap space Randle signs with New Orleans, 2 years/$17.7M ($8.85M per season) with a player option. It wasn’t the contract he hoped for. That is because there wasn’t much demand for his skill set which was now considered antiquated. No one wanted bruising post-up players. Everyone was looking for Rim Runners or Stretch Bigs. Randle showed he could evolve his game by shooting 34% from behind the arc. He also increased his production, averaged 21.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, and 3.1 apg. Randle proved he could be a viable 2nd option to a star like Anthony Davis.
But Davis wanted to be traded to the Lakers and the Pelicans also beat the odds to win the lottery. So with Davis gone and Zion Williamson now the new face of the franchise, Randle became expendable again. So Randle had to enter free agency for a 2nd time to look for a new home.
New York Knicks
After the Knicks missed on Zion Williamson in the draft and Kevin Durant in free agency, Julius Randle becomes their fall back plan, option C.
The Knicks were supposed to his team as he was the highest paid player. But unexpectedly, Marcus Morris becomes the leader of the team and their number one option on offense. Randle couldn’t hide his frustration since Knicks’ leadership had promised to make him the team’s franchise player.
After his 1st season Randle was labeled a bust and a player they needed to get off the books. The Knicks even went ahead and drafted his replacement, selecting Obi Toppin with the 8th overall pick.
But like Randle has always done, he turns around and proves the critics wrong. He turns in a career year in 2020-21, leading the Knicks back to the playoffs for the first time in 8 seasons, was named 2nd team All-NBA, and wins the Most Improved Player award. Everything seemed great, he even signs at a slight discount because he wants the Knicks to build around him.
But then things went bad, but why? Part of it is that Randle believes he is better than most people think he is. He considers himself a franchise player. But since he has gotten to the NBA, no matter what he does, it is not good enough. Every team he is on is looking to replace him. On the Lakers it was LeBron James. On the Pelicans it was Zion Williamson. On the Knicks it’s either Zion Williamson again or hometown kid Obi Toppin.
If you were him you would have to ask yourself, what else do I have to do for a franchise to value me?
That really shouldn’t be the question as the NBA is comprised of the best 1% of basketball players in the world. So for as good as Randle has been, he is not a superstar. That is why Julius should just focus on what he needs to do to maximize his talent and trust that the rest will work out. If he would do that, then the Knicks would the 6th seed, not Toronto, and he wouldn’t be the focus of trade rumors .