Knicks becomes increasingly concerned about Julius Randle’s unpredictable mentality

LOS ANGELES — From the desolate locker room at the Footprint Center in Phoenix late Friday night, Knicks President Leon RoseChief Adviser William Wesley and Executive Allan Houston trudged down the hallway, serious and sad.

Not only had they seen another loss, but a traumatic one against the weary sunswho missed their two superstars Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

The victory seemed in the bag for the Knicks – despite everything Julius Randle’s pointless expulsion with 2:40 in the third quarter for pushing Cam Johnson who got the last laugh. Johnson potted a miracle, banked-in, 30-foot, pull-up 3-pointer on the buzzer to cap his 21-point fourth quarter, spurred by Randle’s ejection.

“It’s okay,” Wesley said aloud to no one in particular after the 115-114 loss. “We’ll get the next one.”

Then the three executives ducked into a separate room to digest that horrific defeat, perhaps even to discuss head coach Tom Thibodeau’s future. After a seventh straight loss and a 3-17 record in the last 20 games and Randle just not seeming right, it was hard to see the sun in the Valley of the Sun.

Julius Randle attacks Cameron Johnson.
Julius Randle attacks Cameron Johnson.
USA TODAY sports

The Knicks, who are 25-38 13 games under the .500, will get that chance Sunday night against the Clippers — a game that was dropped from the national televised lineup largely due to the Knicks’ midseason collapse.

Thibodeau, who has spent the season not criticizing Randle, finally showed some disapproval towards the end of his Friday press conference: “You can’t cross that line. You have to know where to stop.”

Randle was rolling towards what RJ Barrett thought was a “40-point game” when he freaked out, turned on Johnson after they struggled for position on a rebound and shoved him hard while making contact with a referee who tried to intervene. Scored with two technical checks and an early elimination, Randle exited the tournament with 25 points and fired Johnson into a heroic closing period.

“We have to have the mental strength to get through this,” said Thibodeau. “Mental toughness. When you’re faced with adversity, the most important thing is to be mentally strong in any situation. We can’t hang our heads, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get out there and fight. That’s what it’s about now right now. This is about our fight, our will, our determination, our unity, our spirit, all of that.

Randle was not made available for comment afterwards. Barrett and Alec Burks, the two players provided, said they did not speak to Randle. Neither did Thibodeau.

Julius Randle
Julius Randle
Karl Wenzelberg

“We definitely should have won the game 100 percent,” said Barrett.

According to an NBA source, Randle’s general psyche is a cause for concern within the Knicks organization.

The source said Randle didn’t come into camp in the same sensational form as he did last season, ahead of Thibodeau’s first year as head of the Knicks. Perhaps that prevented him from being the type of two-way player who delivered energy on both sides of the ball that he was during his second-team All-NBA season.

Randle seemed angry all year, battling with fans through his “thumbs down” gesture, battling with umpires, battling with assistant coaches, battling with Johnson when the Knicks had all the momentum and were close to their six-game game to finish slipping.

He was a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Some might suspect he’s jealous of Barrett’s rising fame. In the last six away games, Randle has not participated in the presentation of the starting line-up, preferring to warm up at the back. As a result, Randle misses the traditional group session after the lineups are called. (He attends home games).

Evan Fournier and Randle have spoken out about a group that doesn’t have the confidence to pull out games in the fourth quarter.

“The confidence comes from your preparation,” Thibodeau said late Friday. “Therefore comes trust, and trust can wane. If you have a series of punches in the fourth shot, that gives you confidence.

Julius Randle argues with a referee.
Julius Randle argues with a referee.
Karl Wenzelberg
Julius Randle gets into an argument with Knicks assistant coach Scott King.
Julius Randle gets into an argument with Knicks assistant coach Scott King.

Thibodeau argued that the Knicks average the same number of points as they give up in the fourth. It’s just that premature errors and free throw shots are a big problem. They are last in the league in free-throw percentage and were hurt by Burks’ miss from the line by 5.9 seconds that set up Johnson’s killer Trey in the transition.

Thibodeau noted that the Knicks should have gotten that loose-ball rebound. He acknowledged that “the hustle plays” aren’t going their way anymore.

“The ball went around and hit 3, 4 different people,” Thibodeau said. “You come up with it and put in a 3 for the win. We have to come up with this ball.”

Thibodeau was asked if he was concerned about Randle’s well-being.

“I worry about everything,” Thibodeau said. Knicks becomes increasingly concerned about Julius Randle’s unpredictable mentality


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