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Knicks youngsters taking backseat with trade deadline looming

For the first time this season, the Knicks rolled out a starting lineup consisting completely of their free-agent signings from last summer.

In each of the Knicks’ first 42 games, at least one of their homegrown players had been in the starting five. But Saturday against the 76ers, the infamous summer of 2019 lineup took the floor and played the majority of the minutes.

While the veteran unit gave the Joel Embiid-less 76ers a run for their money, the end result was just the same, another loss (90-87) in what is turning into another lost season for the Knicks.

But the mounting losses — the Knicks fell to 11-32, having dropped eight of their past nine games — doesn’t mean interim coach Mike Miller is ready to change course with his lineup, even as he tries to balance developing his young players and winning.

Knicks
Coach Mike Miller talks to veteran Marcus Morris.AP

“I think that’s probably the balance for every team in the league right now,” Miller said Sunday before the Knicks flew to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Monday. “I really do believe they go hand in hand. As the players are growing and developing and getting better, you’re going to see the success as it relates to the team stuff.” That’s it. Every day, we’re trying to find something. Even in the games, we’re seeing that development. Sometimes it’s through the lessons, different lessons, that we learn and get better. We’ll be better the next time we’re in that situation.”

Rookie RJ Barrett’s absence from the lineup on Saturday was due to his sprained ankle, which will knock him out at least a week. But fans have also been clamoring for more minutes from the Knicks’ younger players like Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Frank Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier or even new two-way player Kenny Wooten.

Of the starting five on Saturday — Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock and Elfrid Payton —only Randle has more than $1 million guaranteed to him from the Knicks next season, per Spotrac. Their uncertain future with the team has factored little into their playing time, though that could change after the Feb. 6 trade deadline, depending on whether the Knicks can move some of those veterans.

“Our focus is just, how do we get better every day and then how is that going to translate to our team having success on a daily basis?” Miller said when asked if he had any plans to start playing his younger guys more. “We played our most complete game less than a week ago [against Miami]. So I see us doing a lot of good things. I think we can move this thing forward.”

Of course, in that 124-121 win over the Heat last Sunday, Barrett had 23 points and Knox chipped in 17 off the bench.

Saturday, Knox played just 11:39, shooting 2-for-3 from the field. Trier got 13:15 — his most in nearly a month — with Barrett out and veteran backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington under the weather, and responded by shooting 0-for-3.

Miller said he was “very conscious” of getting Knox enough minutes, but the sophomore has regressed this season in a smaller role behind Morris.

“Every team’s made up of roles and how each guy can come in and impact the game in his role,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s going to be different. If Kevin is playing [behind] Marcus and Marcus is really rolling and having a good game, some games it’s a little tougher for Kevin to get the minutes to get going. We’re very conscious of making sure we do that because he’s been productive with his minutes.”

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