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What happened to Julius Randle? A Toppin and Poppin’ investigation

Everyone has their theories.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Abe: Jayson, it’s a very mid Sunday evening here in New York City. The vibes at Bunton’s were meh so I came home early and got to reflecting on what was one of the more aggravating Knicks seasons this century, which is really saying something. We will have the next several months to reflect on many shoulda woulda couldas, many WTF moments, and many nagging questions. I will hopefully never have to read any morons defending the merits of “Point AB” ever again. I may have to spend at least another half season agonizing over our coach Tom Thibodeau’s bizarre rotations, and we have a first-round pick to look forward to debating.

But when I look back on this season, the real nagging questions, the one I will lose sleep over and will haunt my dreams, is what exactly the fuck happened to our “star” Julius Deion Randle? Last season he was a revelation, the hard playing on court star and locker room captain of our scrappy, ragtag bunch of expendable vets that somehow earned a home court playoff seed, and finished fifth in the MVP voting en route to a Most Improved Player Award. That’s a real thing that actually happened. We rewarded that turn with $117 million dollars for the next four (now, blessedly, three) years.

As unexpected and and pleasantly shocking as last season was, this season was its inverse, a stunning about face in which our arms and elbows star instantly, immediately transformed into a brooding, petulant child. We were subjected to an entire season of clips that would drop on the timeline we’d study like Zapruder film, as he drifted further and further away from timeout huddles like a plastic bag floating on currents of wind. When he played well, it was almost like he was doing it to spite the fans of the team theoretically supporting and rooting for him, giving us bizarre thumbs down, or grabbing end of game rebounds like it bumped into his child in a Penn Station crowd without apologizing or saying “excuse me”. He would get into feuds with refs that wouldn’t call fouls on contact that would go on for hours, weeks, leading to dumb technicals at inopportune times and hurting his ability to get future calls on 50/50 plays. It was a heel turn the likes of which I’ve never seen outside the WWE, and will hopefully never see again.

So the purpose of today’s exercise is to brazenly, irresponsibly speculate as to what we witnessed this year, what happened to Jules and why? I’ll cede the floor for you to pitch the first theory, and then we can debate.

Jay: I’m putting my orange tinfoil hat on like Alex Jones if he only worked for WFAN. My first theory: His teammates refused to call him “Don Julio,” which was his desired name for the rest of the season. Randle felt that he needed to be called a new name this season based on his excellent play last year. Unfortunately, this teammates didn’t feel the same way. This caused a cosmic shift in Randle’s attitude. He went from embracing his teammates to no longer trusting them. That’s why, when Evan Fournier would try to encourage him, he would shut him down. That’s why when Obi gets chants, it clearly saddens him. The only person who would call him by his desired name was Thibs. So, when you see Tom Thibodeau never criticizing Randle in the press but always throwing shots at Quickley and Obi by suggesting they aren’t good enough to play, it is because Thibs is hanging on Randle’s jock like he is the reason why he will keep his job.

Abe: The Don Julio Theory. I like it. This is why you should never try to make a nickname happen.

Jay: Second conspiracy: The Kentucky Basketball Theory

Randle was playing bad on purpose so he could try to get John Calipari the job as the New York Knicks coach. Hear me out, here. Randle, although he likes Thibs, couldn’t turn down the possibility of Calipari becoming the coach and adding to the Kentucky industrial system that the Knicks have been practicing for many years. I’m surprised this hasn’t happened, in fact. Randle was supposed to bum it up, and the Knicks would fire Thibs for Calipari. Except, somehow, it hasn’t happened. Even the Knicks can’t grift correctly.

Abe: It’s an interesting theory, and the Kentucky mafia connections run deep, and Calipari seems to have hit a kind of dead end malaise at his school that could support it, but I don’t know. Randle is going to immediately turn on the coach he had his greatest professional triumph under the very next year? Seems far fetched.

But it does speak to a clear and present dissatisfaction with the organization. Which is why my next potential explanation is The Buyer’s Remorse Theory.

Randle signed an extension in August of 2021 for four years and $117 million. If he had waited one more season he could’ve signed a max extension in the vicinity of $200 million over five. Instead, Randle opted for financial stability and decided New York is where he wanted to play out his prime. Until of course, he didn’t. Randle came stomping back into town this season a soured asshole shell of his former self. Perhaps he pulled a Jimmy Butler, being a malcontent and telling everyone it’s because he’s not happy with the basketball or the team, when it’s really about his pocket.

Jay: But why the switch up? Randle signed that deal and it struck me as a discount. It wasn’t even the amount that was the problem, but rather this idea of “here is this guy who wants to be in New York so bad that he is taking this and not the full amount. He just wants to get this thing done now.” So, in the next few months, it got that toxic where he regrets that? What would make sense to me is if he was upset that the Knicks didn’t retain Bullock, who from what I have heard was a Randle favorite. The biggest thing is that he clearly did not enjoy the success that RJ has gotten this year. He thinks he is the guy. I don’t think he wants to share it with anyone else. Well, tough luck for him: He needs to show up next season as a guy who can help the team win. He can be that. He just has to embrace it. Last one: The Hawks Theory! Randle struggling against the Hawks broke his brain. When they exposed him for holding the ball too long and not having enough counter moves/athleticism to breakthrough against Nate McMillan’s defense, it completely changed Randle’s ability to push forward. Despite him playing well on opening night, this has irrevocably damaged him. The season had a quick turn around and he wasn’t able to get it out of his head.

Abe: I think this might be the most plausible. Randle was a medium talent before and reverted to a medium talent this year, one that needs the ball all the time to be remotely successful. He played above his position last season thanks to an incredible hot streak, cheered on by the Garden faithful. He was pantsed by the Hawks and exposed (like no one since Tony Allen vs. The Warriors) as a player that loves a baited trap and can’t make the quick decisions he needed to in order to tilt the court and potentially swing the series, and once he lost that confidence, like any number of Jets quarterbacks this millennia, he was dead in the water. No one to blame but himself for ultimately committing to this team that is going to boo him when he sucks. But regardless of why Julius has become this miserable prick, the question now is what will the Knicks do about it. I’d love a trade, but I’d settle for an ice floe. I’ll be happy to drive him to the North Pole.