Julius Randle-Obi Toppin problem hangs over Knicks’ offseason

Rate it as the most truthful comment Knicks president Leon Rose made about his vision during Sunday’s interview with MSG Network.

Rose was supportive of Julius Randle and his difficult season, but later added, “When it comes to opportunities that can come up, we’re very flexible.”

The Knicks will be “very flexible” on Randle. His status ranks as the biggest question of the Knicks’ offseason, along with Rose’s ability to land a legitimate starting point guard in a trade, draft or free agency.

Obi Toppin’s late rise as a scorer, 3-point shooter and playmaker has opened the eyes of coach Tom Thibodeau, who went so far as to compare him to his all-time favorite player, Taj Gibson, when it comes to intangibles and rebounding. that contribute. his companions

Trading Randle, if they can get the same value, would open up the starting spot for Toppin next season and perhaps build stronger morale for the team.

Those things matter to Thibodeau.

Obi Toppin, Julius Randle
AP, Charles Wenzelberg

In response to Rose’s comment about Randle “not feeling comfortable” this season, Thibodeau responded, “Well, I don’t know if he’s comfortable, but I think the most important thing is that we don’t confuse how talented he is. He didn’t shoot 3s as well as he did a year ago, but he still has 20, 10 and five. That’s talent. That’s a lot of talent.”

However, Thibodeau liked how the Knicks passed the ball when Randle wasn’t on the floor in the last five games. Randle closed it late with a sore quad.

But his enigmatic behavior was a problem for much of the season. It began with a “thumbs down” gesture to the Garden crowd in early January, continued with a media boycott, escalated with an altercation in Los Angeles over a laptop in the hands of an assistant coach, and culminated in the Randle’s decision not to join his teammates. for the national anthem or the pregame lineup presentation at away games.

The outfield fans chanting Toppin’s name when Randle was on the floor had to be a blow to a player who, to be fair, led the Knicks to their first playoff berth in eight years a season ago.

“I think we’ve had our ups and downs this year and when you’re that type of player, he gets criticism,” Thibodeau said. “I will receive criticism. That goes with the grass here. So deal with it, come back, use it as motivation. I know one thing: Julius will be in the gym all summer.”

Obi Toppin
Obi Toppin showed his improved scoring ability while Julius Randle was sidelined.
jason charcoal

If the Knicks can’t trade Randle for a fair package, Thibodeau might have to explore a small package with Randle at center and Toppin at power forward. However, Thibodeau hates him from a defensive standpoint.

There will be teams interested in the beefy Randle, whose four-year, $117 million contract extension starts next season at $23.7 million. That’s not an exorbitant number at all. Randle is at the top of all the opponent scouting reports and is sensational when he’s in the right frame of mind.

If the Knicks don’t get draft picks and a legitimate starter back, it might not be worth it unless Randle formally demands a trade. The Mavericks would be an interesting scenario if the Knicks get Dallas involved in sign-and-trade talks for free-agent point guard Jalen Brunson. Randle is from Dallas and often wreaks havoc when he plays in Big D.

“We had new players, it was difficult to develop chemistry early on,” Thibodeau said. “But Julius is at his best when he runs the floor, he plays fast or he attacks the rim. When he did that, he had several big games. He would be the first to tell you. When he does that and we spray the ball and he moves fast, we’re good. I’m hopeful that we’ve learned from the All-Star break.”

Thibodeau had been skeptical of Toppin’s defense and 3-point shooting. During the middle of the season, Toppin stopped looking at the basket when he took the ball deep. He closed out the season at 30.6 percent from 3, but 46 percent over the last five games when he started after Randle sat out.

The Randle-Toppin conundrum is going to irritate Rose, Randle’s former agent, all offseason.

Julius Randle on the court during the Knicks' season-ending win over the Raptors.
Julius Randle on the court during the Knicks’ season-ending win over the Raptors.
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As was the point guard position after the Kemba Walker/Derrick Rose tandem turned into an unmitigated disaster. Rose had ankle surgery in December and Walker resigned in February.

Meanwhile, Brunson, whose father, Rick, was Leon Rose’s first client as an agent, is expected to be his top target as a point guard. The draft isn’t well stocked with playmaking point guards. The Knicks (37-45) are the 12th seed in the lottery with a 7.2 percent chance of moving to a top-three pick.

It can all be resolved on the perimeter if Utah’s superstar shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, the product of Westchester, requests a trade. The Knicks would probably have to lose RJ Barrett in the trade, but it could change the franchise.

Thibodeau, on Sunday night, did not want to specify his needs.

“Unlike you [the media], I really have to look and dig deep,” Thibodeau said. “I could say I have ideas, and I do. Some. But I want to make sure. I want to go deeper and formulate the plan for next year.”

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