Knicks center Enes Kanter disappointed with reduced role

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Tuesday, January 22, 2019

NEW YORK -- New York Knicks center Enes Kanter doesn't agree with head coach David Fizdale's decision to remove him from the rotation.

"I was very disappointed. There was nothing to be happy about, so I'm not happy and I definitely don't agree with the decision, of course," Kanter said after the Knicks' 127-109 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.

Fizdale told Kanter in a conversation late last week that his priority is to develop New York's young centers, Luke Kornet and Mitchell Robinson. That leaves Kanter, 26, as the club's third center.

"I'm a player. We are competitors, so [we want to] play big minutes," Kanter said. "If you look at the whole year, first 41 games, I did not miss a game. And they put me in fourth [in the] rotation [on Monday], it definitely hurts. It hurts a lot."

Teams have talked to the Knicks about potential trades for Kanter ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline, sources say. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Sacramento Kings and Knicks talked about a trade involving Kanter and Zach Randolph as a swap of expiring contracts. New York does not want to take back salary in a trade of Kanter, sources say. If the Knicks can't find a trade that suits them, the club and Kanter could agree on a buyout, which would allow Kanter to sign with the team of his choice.

Kanter said Monday that he hadn't requested a trade.

"I love it here but in the end, I want to play basketball. I miss playing basketball, man," Kanter said. "And I would let [Knicks general manager] Scott [Perry] and my agent [Mark Bartelstein] handle that stuff."

Kanter has been disappointed with his reduced playing time since late last month, when Fizdale replaced him in the starting lineup with Kornet, a second-year center. Fizdale addressed the situation with Kanter in their discussion ahead of Monday's game.

"I just had an open and honest conversation about having three centers now and just where we are from a team standpoint," Fizdale said. "Ten wins at this point of the season and two young, talented 5s. I'm going to try my best to share those minutes, but I do have a priority to grow those players."

Kanter played 19 minutes in the Knicks' loss Monday to Oklahoma City, but that was likely a byproduct of Kornet suffering an ankle injury. Kanter said he got the impression from his talk with Fizdale that he'd be taken fully out of the rotation.

"I think right now, all I can do is just try to go out there and try to be a good teammate and just keep supporting my teammates and try to help the young guys get better," said Kanter, who is in the final year of his contract, worth $18.6 million.

The Knicks (10-35) have prioritized developing younger players over winning games at this point in the year. Fizdale has had conversations with other veterans, including Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee and Trey Burke, about playing reduced minutes as the club gives younger players an opportunity.

"It's tough. Because they're trying to give the young guys a lot of minutes and get them better, but it's not like I'm 32, 33 years old. I'm 26 years old," Kanter said. "And I want to go out there and compete and play basketball."

Kanter is averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds in 26.5 minutes per game but has struggled at times on defense. Entering play Friday, he ranked 60th out of 60 qualifying centers in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus.

Kanter is one of six Knicks who are not under contract for next season. Fizdale said Sunday that he's sensitive to the players' uncertain situations and their desire for playing time.

"I try to put myself in their shoes all the time," he said. "It's coming down to you feeding your family, setting yourself up for a multiple-year contract, things like that. How can you not think of that stuff? We all would be in the same position.

"As much as I possibly can as the head coach, [I try] to show them the benefits for you won't come at the level that you expect if you don't do it for the team."

Kanter didn't travel to London for the Knicks' game Thursday against the Washington Wizards due to safety concerns. Kanter said he feared he could be assassinated for his opposition to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He received an ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd when he checked in during Monday's first half.

"It means a lot because now, like I don't have a home," Kanter said. "When I check in, the whole crowd was up and was clapping, cheering for me, so it definitely showed me a lot. It just gives me so much hope."

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