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After rare playoff appearance, Randle, Knicks take step back

(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

By BRIAN MAHONEY

AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Julius Randle wasn't quite as good. The New York Knicks weren't nearly as good.

A rare playoff appearance in 2021 was followed by the familiar struggles in New York, where the Knicks went 37-45 in Tom Thibodeau's second season as coach. They don't deny the disappointment but insist things aren't that bad.

"We fell short of what our goals were and so we're motivated to get back to work," Thibodeau said.

The Knicks went 41-31 last season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference. Thibodeau was voted Coach of the Year and Randle the Most Improved Player. They gave the power forward a new contract in the offseason, added Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and hoped to come back even better.

Instead, they fell all the way to 11th in the East.

"I think the one thing with a team that has talent and didn't make the playoffs like us is that we didn't find ourselves," Fournier said. "We never really found a rhythm and couldn't find a way to do it consistently every night."

Randle still averaged 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists, but his 3-point accuracy was way down (from about 41% to 31%) and his frustration was up - with referees, opponents, and even fans. He has such a large role on the team that the Knicks couldn't overcome him being just a little worse than a season ago.

But RJ Barrett took a good leap in his third season and Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley played well down the stretch of their second. The Knicks hope that will carry over into next season after they get over the disappointment of this one.

"We wanted to be in the playoffs, we wanted to take a step, but I feel as though since the All-Star break, the team's shown some momentum and has shown some good signs," Knicks president Leon Rose said in an interview with team broadcaster MSG Network.

Things to know as the Knicks head into the offseason:

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

Starting center Mitchell Robinson, who continues to improve but can't shake injuries, will be an unrestricted free agent. Barrett is eligible for an extension on his rookie contract and made a good case to earn it after averaging 20 points.

STILL HAVEN'T GOTTEN THE POINT

The Knicks couldn't solve their perennial problems at point guard. Walker's homecoming didn't work out and he wasn't even with the team at the end of the season. Derrick Rose was limited to just 26 games by ankle problems. The Knicks may have to decide if they think Quickley is the long-term solution or if they need to look elsewhere.

BETTER TOGETHER?

Toppin's development was slowed in part by playing the same position as Randle, who plays heavy minutes. Toppin scored 35 and a career-best 42 points in the final two games of the season, but that was without Randle playing. The Knicks need to determine if the two can flourish while playing together.

PLENTY OF PICKS

Rose said the Knicks have 13 picks in the next three drafts, including four in the first round. Those can help add to their young core, or perhaps be used to acquire veteran help in a trade.

KEEP THE KIDS?

Thibodeau's rotation late in the season was filled with players 24 and younger, including three rookies. Even Randle is only 27. Perhaps the core will continue improving. But even with time they may never be good enough to catch up in an Eastern Conference where four teams won 50 games, so Rose needs to weigh whether the Knicks simply need more time, or more talent.

"I love the guys, but it's also the NBA," Thibodeau said. "Like, there's constant change and whether it's free agency, draft, whatever it might be, you have to be open to whoever you have. And once you have your team, you love the guys. But I love the way these guys work. So I think there's a huge upside for us."

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Updated April 11, 2022

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