Julius Randle embraced the pressure while leading the Knicks
At the start of last season, a few weeks before David Fizdale lost his job as Knicks coach, he took the team for a family dinner at the Ritz Carlton in Westchester, New York Fizdale recalls a light atmosphere. during an otherwise heavy season, when the players had lost loved ones and the team struggled to win games.
“In the toughest times he’s always been one of the most uplifting guys,” Fizdale said of Julius Randle. “He was struggling personally. His game was struggling, I couldn’t unlock him and he was always there with me.
Late that night only a few remained – Fizdale and his wife Natasha, Julius and his wife Kendra. They sat together and talked about the noise they heard of the negative attention they were getting, Fizdale as the coach and Randle as the team’s biggest free agent signing a summer when fans of the Knicks thought Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were coming. Natasha and Kendra, both active on social media, spoke about the challenge of seeing people insult their husbands on the internet.
For Randle, losing had always been unbearable. In New York, where he wanted the pressure to resurrect an oppressed franchise, it was doubly so. They wouldn’t get away without ignoring that noise.
A year and a half later, the noise is different. These are MVP chants as Randle heads for the free throw line – cheers of relief from a ruthless fanbase.
“The love you get in the garden that the fans are showing me is amazing,” Randle said. “It really feels good, honestly. I will not lie.
The Knicks, fourth seed (41-31), led by Randle, will play their first playoff series since 2013 Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks (41-31). It’s also the first playoff in Randle’s six-year NBA career, the one that began when the Lakers drafted him seventh overall in 2014. He’s now an All-Star, a finalist for the Most upgraded players and some voters will include it on their MVP ballots this year. He’s a leader for the NBA’s other glamorous franchise, 3,000 miles from where his NBA journey began. And the Knicks, after nearly a decade of futility, could have found some stability.
“What he’s doing right now is what he’s always wanted to do,” said Aaron Mintz, Randle’s agent. “He wanted to be the leader of a team where the responsibility is on his shoulders to help carry this franchise and their fanbase like he does. He is very proud of it. He’s so thrilled for the Knicks and New York City about what’s going on.
The big stage he’s on in New York City is nothing new to Randle. He played college basketball in Kentucky and then spent four seasons with the Lakers at a time when the franchise was trying to figure out where they were going after Kobe Bryant retired.
The Knicks, meanwhile, won 37 games in the 2013-14 season and things got worse from there. To help, they hired Phil Jackson, who won 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and Lakers, as an executive in 2014. Jackson’s tenure ended in 2017 without the Knicks finishing better than 12th in the league. Eastern Conference.
Randle became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018, but never felt the Lakers were interested in signing him for a long-term contract. They focused on signing and then building a team around LeBron James. After a period of free will in which the Lakers never made a serious offer to him, they finally gave up their rights to him so that he could find another home. He signed a one-year contract with the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I think like any player” leaving his first team, “he was a bit disappointed,” then Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Randle averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game with the Pelicans, then again entered a free agency period dominated by superstar names. There were rumors that the Knicks could land Durant and Irving. The pair chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. Randle signed a three-year contract with the Knicks worth $ 62 million.
Gentry recalled that Randle had called him to thank him, “He just said, ‘I appreciate the coach what you did and the way you let me play. I just enjoy the situation. From a financial standpoint, it has worked very well for me. ”
Randle embraced everything that came to be a Knick.
“Julius went there knowing it wouldn’t happen overnight, but I think when you work so hard and care so much and are so passionate, it’s frustrating when it doesn’t.” not happen, even though you know it won’t happen right away, ”Mintz said.
Fizdale said: “We spent hours together trying to make him understand that it’s not his job to save the Knicks.”
The Knicks sacked Fizdale in December 2019, in an eight-game losing streak. He would later join ESPN as an analyst.
Three months later, on March 11, their season ended abruptly. The COVID-19 pandemic halted play, and with a 21-45 record, the Knicks failed to qualify for the NBA restart in the Florida bubble.
Their changes that year created a comfortable setting for Randle.
They had hired Leon Rose as their team president in early March. Rose was a longtime NBA agent who was part of CAA, the agency that represents Randle. Later that summer, they hired William Wesley, who had been closely associated with the Kentucky basketball program, as executive vice president of basketball operations. They hired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach and Randle immediately got to work developing a relationship with him. Thibodeau brought in Kenny Payne to his team, a former Kentucky assistant with a close relationship with Randle.
Randle entered the Knicks facility as soon as he could and Thibodeau was impressed with the form he had maintained despite the restrictions related to the pandemic.
“It’s not easy to be in this type of form when everything is closed,” said Thibodeau, finalist for Coach of the Year. “It’s not like a lockout where you can go or play pickup somewhere, that sort of thing. I could also say that he put a lot of time into his shoot. It was a big concern when I accepted the job. I think that changed everything.
He later added, “You could tell how important everything was and how determined he was to make this thing change for us.”
Randle has taken on more responsibility than he has ever had in his career, averaging a career-high 37.6 minutes per game. He’s also averaging career highs in points (24.1), rebounds (10.2) and assists (6.0). It went from 27.7% on three points last season to 41.1%. In February, he became an All-Star.
“Anything you can dream of, it seems like it all came to fruition,” Randle said. “It was amazing obviously. … The goals I wrote when I decided I wanted to play for the Knicks, everything is going.
Getting the Knicks back to the playoffs was one of those goals.
The town that once grew impatient with Randle’s Knicks has grown to love it. Randle has developed a fondness for it. He has said several times that he wants to take out a Knick. Her family also loved being there, 4-year-old Kyden Randle becoming a star in her own right.
Like his father, Kyden can’t stand the Knicks losing. After a two-point loss to the Lakers at Staples Center this month, Kendra posted a video of Kyden crying desperately that he wanted both teams to replay immediately so the Knicks could have another shot.
“The day-to-day, day-to-day journey of just being who he is, is just amazing to me because he understands everything,” Randle said. “He sees everything I do as a player and the other players on the teams and you know he’s a real observer.”
He is now old enough to understand his father’s day-to-day life, just in time to see him provide New York City with an experience he has needed for nearly a decade.