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November mailbag, part one: Benching Julius Randle, grading Pills and projecting playlists

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Thankful for y’all, y’all

Chicago Bulls v Seattle Super Sonics Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

This mailbag is gonna be a three-part bonanza. Let’s get to it.

1) Is there any chance David Fizdale (or another coach) will try playing Julius Randle off the bench? Or do we think [Steve Mills & Scott Perry] promised playing time and are too hands-on to let that happen?

— sbknicks

Initially I read this and thought “fat chance”; I’d figured Randle was more or less a starter over his career. Turns out he came off the bench 57 times the two years prior. I did not know that!

On the one hand, it’s hard to envision Mills and Perry offering the Big Apple Turnover any assurances of starting, given that his contract’s guaranteed for just this year and the next. We’re not talking the five-year commitment to Amar’e Stoudemire or the seven years Allan Houston received. You scrounging for something to be grateful for? Be grateful the Randle deal isn’t the albatross prior regimes handed out to prior non-franchise players.

In addition, the Knicks feature more than one youngster (Mitchell Robinson; Kevin Knox) whom they hope forces their way into the starting five, and unless Mills and Perry’s kink is repeating the mistakes of prior administrations, I don’t imagine they’d block Robinson at the 5 or Knox at the 4 for someone on a short-term deal.

You scrounging for hopelessness? I got ya: the last time the Knicks’ leading moneymaker played at least 41 games and came off the bench of at least half of them is... a little hard to say. In 2009-10 the highest salary belonged to Tracy McGrady, but he only played 24 games with the Knicks that year; the next-highest earner was Eddy Curry, who lasted seven games; Al Harrington was third in salary and came off the bench for 57 of his 72 appearances.

I went back as far as Patrick Ewing, and while the James Dolan-led Knicks have an oddly rich history of their top earners not playing much, if at all, the truth is — hope you’re sitting for this — most franchises play their most expensive player most of the time. Two Knicks have started every game this year: Randle and Marcus Morris (RJ Barrett had, too, before missing the Brooklyn game with a contused quadricep). Barring injury, I don’t see either of the two highest-paid Knicks sitting anytime soon.

In Randle’s case, it’s especially unlikely: entering Wednesday night’s game in Toronto, his best rating in two-man lineups so far is with New York’s current starting center, Taj Gibson (+6.1 points per 100 possessions; 165 minutes together). His worst? With Mitchell Robinson (-19.9 per; 151 minutes). Gibson figures to keep starting while Robinson deals with an aggregate of injuries and 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes.

Morris will give you agita now and then, but he’s a No. 4 starter forced into being the ace of the staff; he certainly hasn’t played poorly enough to lose his job, and who would he lose it to, anyway? Barrett’s successes are probably the brightest marks on the Knicks’ credit report. Unless the rookie hits the wall and goes into an extended tailspin, he’s starting for the foreseeable future and beyond. If Fizdale were canned, would the Knicks hire someone with the cred and the clout to sit Randle for the good of the team? Doesn’t seem likely. I imagine our best bet for a Randle renaissance is for Fizdale to “get him right.” It worked for this guy.

2) What would happen if a thousand Knicks fans started chanting, “Sell the team” in the Garden during a home game?

— Russ

I imagine it’d look a lot like the climax in Matilda. In the following clip, the role of James Dolan will be played by Principal Trunchbull and the Garden crowd will be played by elementary schoolchildren.

For real, it would be the greatest Knick moment since advancing to the 1999 Finals if the crowd ever unified to pull this off. But to paraphrase Gandalf after the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Dolan’s wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift. What do y’all think would happen?

3) What do you think are the odds of the Knicks stealing [Masai] Ujiri?

— Rapsfan95

This MLB offseason I knew the Mets were never gonna sign Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter. Those cats cost money and they wanna steer the ship themselves; they don’t need backseat drivers. The Girardi/Showalter rumors were pure P.R., cost them nothing and maybe deluded a few rubes back east into thinking the Wilpons would ever hire a power bottom. Never in a million years, bub. Fred and Jeff value subs who stay in their lane and work cheap. I have hope Carlos Beltrán is successful enough quickly enough to win enough power to break the curse. But the odds are better he’s gone around the same time whoever succeeds Fiz will be.

Ujiri joining the Knicks would surprise me more than LeBron James signing here. There’s never been a Knick exec this century who combines self-determination, success and edge like Masai does. Remember the last time a GM who’d won a title thought about coming to New York? David Griffin pulled out of consideration, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, due to “the snag in the negotiations [being] Griffin’s need to bring his own front office and staff to New York...The current Knicks’ front office is tenured, and according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne, ‘New York has been hesitant to make sweeping changes to the group.’”

Steve Mills does not give off any of the same vibes Ujiri does, but he’s not any less tenured now than he was in 2017. Failure has never been held against him before. Why would it now?

4) After shifting on Kevin Durant, is there anything Pills could have done better?

— nabnab

Once that ship sailed away — one I was happy to bid bon voyage to — adding capable vets to short-term deals seemed a fine counter. Randle and Morris, especially, brought skill sets and CVs the rest of the team couldn’t match; signing them to short-term deals was the chaser that washed away any concerns I may have had. I wasn’t really clear on the Bobby Portis deal, and I’m still not a big fan of it, but I imagine they saw a roster devoid of anyone 6’10” or taller who can score and figured that could come in handy.

Elfrid Payton has not brought glory to his name in New York, but from a distance you can squint your way to seeing the logic in adding a 25-and-under ex-lottery pick point guard to a team that has struggled at the position for decades. It’s paid dividends before.

I ask y’all: go back in time to when Durant and Kyrie Irving announced they were signing with the cool team ‘cuz they’re cool too and that’s what cool guys do. What would you have done differently?

5) I have this vivid memory of Craig Ehlo being on the end of the Knicks bench at some point in the ‘90s. However, I’ve looked online, and there is no record of this... The weird thing is, my brother also remembers this. He’d come out in garbage time, and it was fun. Or so it seemed. Did I hallucinate this? Have I slipped into a different dimension where surprise is spelt with two R’s and Ehlo never played for the Knicks at the end of his career? Did I hallucinate my brother to reinforce my delusion? Or is this some elaborate cosmic facade meant to slowly chip away at my weather-beaten sanity?

— OnceAnOakAlwaysAnOak

Your alternate reality appears to also substitute an ancient grain for the verb “spelled.” But I’m no grammar narc and I prefer the music of “spelt,” so thank you for bringing that into my day, OAOAAO.

As a mid-’90s Knicks groupie, I can tell you Mr. Ehlo never played here. Ol’ Eggs Ehlo spent time in Atlanta and a swan song in Seattle after his Cavalier days. As far as you and your alleged brother and your tenuous sanity, I suggest you find a comfy chair, warm up some hot chocolate and relax while reading a Berenstein Bears book. If the top stops spinning, you’re home.

6) Which ’Bockers Have “top-10 of the decade” music lists saved in the notes on their mobile devices?

— elfangor

Portis, obvs. Ntilikina has some, but only ’cuz Portis kept bugging him on team flights to add them; Frank is such a sweetie. Mitch does, only ‘cuz someone added them to his phone as a prank and now he can’t figure out how to get rid of them. Randle doesn’t because his notes app is busted; he owns a flip phone he’s always dropping.

Morris only listens to vinyl. Allonzo Trier only listens to recordings of himself singing his favorite songs. Kevin Knox prefers Beethoven, but only Beethoven’s post-1800 work; everything before that Knox dismisses as “too Mozart-y even for Mozart.” Dennis Smith Jr. listens to the same one song over and over and over again.

That’s all for today. Hope you spent your Thanksgivings celebrating things that matter with people who do. Also, for those who eat meat, a tip for the future: put some flavor on your turkeys, people! Every year we flavor ours the same way we do pernil, and guests report it’s the best turkey they’ve ever tasted. Gravy should be an accent, not a fig leaf covering your culinary shame!