Consider this, if you will. Maybe last season Julius Randle used bad behavior as an appeal to our emotions because he wanted us to acknowledge his emotions.
Julius tried everything to get our attention. He initiated a potentially violent scene with Rudy Gobert when the Jazz visited New York in March. He exposed his wounded inner child by pouting after a victory against Chicago later that month. His thumbs-down gesture at home court fans will be remembered as a legendary Knicks moment, not far behind Willis Reed returning from the locker room, Starks’s dunk, and Larry Johnson’s four-point play.
Randle knows that buzzer means we WON right??? pic.twitter.com/RYxDEDySm3— Knicks Memes (@KnicksMemes) March 29, 2022
Like a Broadway actor, Julius gave us these dramatic performances because he needed our attention, and needed us to understand his struggles and his suffering.
Even the usually reticent team president Leon Rose acknowledged Randle’s difficult season when he told MSG’s Mike Breen, “Julius is a passionate player…Last year everything went right. This year, things didn’t go right. Things happened on the court, we saw some emotion coming out.”
Most fans have been unsympathetic to Randle’s hard time, however. Factions of the base are begging to trade him away, practically for nuts of the pea. Do whatever it takes to shed this bum, is the sentiment. You’re on Twitter, right?
Like Rose, the Knicks’ head coach Tom Thibodeau also alluded to Randle’s difficulties. “You’re going to get a lot of credit, you’re going to get a lot of blame. That’s the way it works here, so just stay focused, come in the next day, and just keep working. Just keep working.”
Rose and Thibs seem confident in their abilities to corral their thoroughbred power forward. We are approximately one month away from the start of training camp, and Randle is still on the roster, to the dismay of many Knick faithful.
Last season was an Icarus-like fall to Earth for the 6’8”, 250 lbs southpaw. In 2020-21, his best professional season, Randle posted an excellent slash line of 24.1/10.2/6, was named the NBA’s most improved player, elected to the All-Star team, and chosen for the All-NBA second team; in 2021-22, he had a terrible season, which is not reflected in his final averages of 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 5.1 assists per game.
Julius was out of sync with the team for almost the entire year, rarely vibing with point guard experiment Kemba Walker and often playing the role of primary ball-stopper on offense. (Usually, the ball would require inflation after Randle dribbled it like a man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder.) An increasingly salty attitude and stubborn stretches where he refused to talk to the press did not engender sympathy, either.
Julius Randle said postgame this was about communication on rebounding: "It looks like we’re arguing, whatever it was. We went to the locker room, yo, talk it out. We say regardless at the end of the day we’ve got each other’s back and we’re in this together. That’s important." https://t.co/zYdDresOke— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) December 3, 2021
What was going on? Nobody knows. Maybe Julius had stress at home after the arrival of his second child. Maybe he received mixed messages from his coach, sometimes being called the leader of the team, sometimes not. Maybe Julius was just playing for a juicier contract in 2020-21 and once he signed his 4-year / $117,089,280 deal, his incentive to stifle his less-attractive qualities was gone.
Whatever it was, the Earl of Randle never looked happy. Nay, he looked miserable. And yet, Thibs and Rose believe they can still bring him around.
Thibs is the grizzled old, “take no-guff from any player” coach (sometimes). Conversely, the mucho mellow Rose joined the Knicks’ front office after spending years as an agent, where he must have massaged countless egos. Of course they think that, given their expertise, they’ll be able to mollify and manage the tempestuous Randle.
Let’s hope they can.
With a proper reboot, Randle might fully realize his potential, become a top power forward in the league, and help bring championship glory back to New York basketball.
If they can’t fix him…there’s at least one pink slip that should be handed out.
Despite receiving public support from the top brass, Thibodeau is on thin ice after last season. Among the sins for which he must atone is his inability to rein in the mercurial Randle.
Whereas he had control over Julius during their first, successful campaign together, last year there was at least one instance of Randle refusing to sub out of a game, and the standards that Thibodeau held against other players (specifically reserve forward Obi Toppin) did not apply to Julius. If these things aren’t corrected and the Knicks aren’t winning, Thibodeau should be sacked before the season concludes.
The enigmatic Leon Rose keeps his schemes quiet, but his primary focus this off-season has been to secure a dependable point guard (Jalen Brunson) and acquire the dynamic Donovan Mitchell to run alongside him. We can assume Leon would rather not include “starting power forward” on his shopping list, and even though he turned in a nice end-of-season run, nobody of consequence has suggested that the team considers Toppin to be a starter yet.
Thibs and Rose need Randle to cooperate to prevent headaches…and maybe even protect their jobs.
Julius has risen—and lifted us with him—before. In 2020-21, the guy carried a low-expectation team to the fourth seed and its first playoff appearance in eight years. Oh, we did cheer when he bellowed, “We here.” And oh, how we loved to see his young son Kyden and wife Kendra at home games when the shots were falling.
Then came last season. His fines alone must have hurt—the last total I saw was $130k for the year. That included a $50k bill for shoving Cam Johnson of the Phoenix Suns and touching a ref. Bad behavior gets pricey in today’s NBA.
Julius Randle and Cam Johnson got into it.— ESPN (@espn) March 5, 2022
Randle was ejected after the exchange. pic.twitter.com/K5Bh3O7bS7
Now, if the 2022-23 curtain goes up and Randle is still working off last year’s script, Thibs and Rose must be prepared to take prompt action.
Mr. Thibs will have to show that he’s still the cold-blooded coach who made his reputation as a demanding bastard in Chicago. If Randle’s a problem, Thibs must be ready to relegate him to the bench. Otherwise, all his “you earn your minutes” and “we play as a team” stuff is hogwash.
Remember, Thibs was wandering the desert of ex-coaches when Leon Rose became the Knicks’ president. Rose was reportedly close to Thibs and, surprising few, he hired his old friend to fill the head coach vacancy.
Tom would be justified to think that Leon trusts him and will continue to defend the twice-recipient of Coach of the Year honors.
But Rose needs to be ready with the trigger, too. If Randle is a problem again this year, Leon must jettison the 27-year-old from the team, post haste. And if Thibs enables Randle, buddy or not, Tom should be sent packing, too.
Put simply, if they’re going to retain him, New York needs a commitment to behave from Julius, and he should be given whatever help is necessary. Hell, I’m sure I’d need therapy if an arena full of 18,000 fans told me, vociferously, that I suck poo poo.
Any violation of the agreement, however, must result in swift, punitive action as soon as possible.
If Julius plays ball (literally and figuratively) then all sides will be satisfied. Randle will have cause for pride, Thibs will rack up the wins he craves, Rose can focus on fishing for All-Stars, and we fans….well, I dunno, are we ever truly happy?
Should Julius make an obvious effort, though, and demonstrate a healthy attitude, you’ll see some of us come around to support him again. Maybe even on Twitter. Maybe even me.