Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

The New York Knicks are in a transitional phase as the trade deadline approaches, but the guys in the locker room are staying professional.

Danny Small

TARRYTOWN, NY—Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. The clock is about to strike midnight and more than a handful of New York Knicks could be on the move by the time the Feb. 6 trade deadline comes and goes.

At practice on Wednesday, interim head coach Mike Miller and a trio of players addressed the media on a number of topics, including the looming trade deadline and the abrupt reassignment of team president Steve Mills. Uncertainty is hanging over the Knicks like a black cloud right now, but the team is trying to stay professional through the chaos.

“These guys are professionals, they’ve acted as professionals,” Miller said. “I’ve said this on numerous occasions, this team has had so many things come up on a personal level, team level, things that have happened this year and they’ve rallied around each other.”

The players now have to deal with two basketball-related conundrums: Seemingly no one is safe from a potential trade and the team’s president of basketball operations is being reassigned at a crucial time.

The veterans are trying to help the young guys keep things in perspective. After all, the NBA is a business and this is just how it goes.

“I’m not surprised by anything,” Julius Randle said to media. “It’s the NBA. It’s my sixth year. I’ve seen a lot in my short six years so I don’t get surprised by anything anymore.”

Especially in the climate of today’s NBA, players are constantly on the move, whether they like it or not. Randle has never been traded before, but he’s on his third team in six years so he is quite familiar with the way the league operates.

Elfrid Payton, on the other hand, has been traded twice in his career already: once on draft night from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Orlando Magic, and again in 2018 from Orlando to the Phoenix Suns. Much like Randle, he’s bounced around during his short career, playing for four teams in six years.

“I only control what I control,” Payton said on Wednesday. “I don’t look over my shoulder. If something happens, it happens.”

The veteran point guard has experience with general manager Scott Perry from their days together in Orlando. For the time being, Perry is running the basketball operations and Payton feels quite confident in his ability to do so.

“Scott’s a good leader, man, somebody I trust. … It’s been a tough year, but I still have full trust in Scott. I think he has a vision,” Payton added.

While Randle and Payton have been around the block, this is all new to rookie RJ Barrett. The No. 3 overall pick still doesn’t know what to make of the situation unfolding right now.

“I have no clue what’s going on and it’s my rookie year. I’m so lost right now,” Barrett laughed. For what it’s worth, there is no chance the Knicks flip Barrett in a trade barring something completely unforeseen and earth-shattering.

For the time being, Barrett is more worried about rehabbing his ankle and playing again. He participated in practice, was seen running on the sidelines, and hasn’t ruled out playing in Thursday’s game against the Magic. These are all signs of progress for a 19-year-old who hasn’t played since Jan. 16 against the Suns.

The prevailing feeling seems to be that Barrett is going to be back on the court sooner rather than later. Rather than the oft-used company line that he “continues to make progress,” these are tangible signs that the rookie’s return is near.

News & Notes

  • Perry did not meet with the media after practice. The last time a member of the Knicks’ front office spoke to the media was on Nov. 11 following a blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Rumors that the Magic have had discussions about trading Aaron Gordon have been common of late, but it appears unlikely that he’ll be dealt before Thursday’s deadline. New York and Orlando will square off for the second time this season on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET). The Magic beat the Knicks 95-83 in their first meeting this year.

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