As the Knicks prepare for their fourth training camp under Tom Thibodeau, there are a number of storylines to watch.
There is Jalen Brunson looking to build off a sensational season in which he emerged as one of the top lead guards in the sport.
There is the addition of another former Villanova star, Donte DiVincenzo, who should improve the Knicks’ 3-point shooting profile.
There is the hope for further development of young players such as Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley.
There is a team coming off its best season in a decade and the continued search for a superstar to pair with Brunson.
But the No. 1 story with these Knicks surrounds the oldest player in Thibodeau’s rotation, a player who has been a lightning rod for criticism as his performance has fluctuated between good and bad the past three years.
All eyes remain on Julius Randle.
The two-time All-Star is coming off a strong regular season and a shaky postseason. He underwent arthroscopic left ankle surgery shortly after the Knicks were eliminated in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Heat. He is still as important as any Knick, even with Brunson’s ascension.
At his best, Randle is a worthy co-star to Brunson. At his worst, he can hold the Knicks back.
We saw it last season. The Knicks don’t finish a surprising fifth in the Eastern Conference if not for Randle rebounding from a poor 2021-22 campaign and adjusting well to playing with the ball less. He was named to the All-NBA third team after averaging 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
In the playoffs, however, Randle regressed.
Yes, he was dealing with an ankle issue, but his defensive effort was often lacking, and the ankle didn’t seem to bother him on the offensive end when it came to getting up shots.
Had the Knicks gotten even an average series out of Randle in the second round, they would have had a shot at knocking off the Heat.
Twice now as a Knick, Randle has been a postseason problem. In 15 career playoff games with the club, Randle has averaged 3.9 turnovers and shot 34.4 percent from the field. There is no escaping that when he was needed most, Randle didn’t show up. He was even benched in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ critical Game 4 victory over the Cavaliers in the first round.
But the Knicks have no other choice. They need Randle. The offseason trade of Obi Toppin to the Pacers created an empty spot behind Randle at power forward.
The expectation is that Josh Hart and Barrett will see time as small-ball fours backing up Randle. But if Randle misses any time due to injury, or doesn’t perform, the Knicks will be in trouble. There are no other viable options at his position barring a trade.
So much has changed with the Knicks in recent years. The roster is young and should be able to finish in the top five of the conference again. Brunson gives them a star to lean on.
But Randle remains so important. He may be the key to the Knicks building on last season’s breakthrough … or taking a step back.
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Shockwaves were felt in the NBA world Wednesday afternoon.
After months of speculation and rumors, Damian Lillard was finally dealt by the Trail Blazers.
Except, it wasn’t to the Heat, his preferred destination. It wasn’t to the Raptors, who reportedly had been gaining traction. It was to the Bucks in a three-team deal that included the Suns.
A few thoughts, as they pertain to the Knicks:
• The Bucks clearly heard Giannis Antetokounmpo’s musings about possibly playing elsewhere in the future loud and clear.
This trade offered a clear message to the two-time MVP: We want to win as much as you do.
This is an all-in move, which cost them All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and valuable guard Grayson Allen.
Amid questions about Antetokounmpo’s future — he has at least two years left on his contract and expressed some concerns about his future in Milwaukee — this surely seems like a deal made at least in part to get him to re-up with the Bucks rather than hit free agency. Who knows whether it will work?
Lillard will be 35 by the time Antetokounmpo’s current deal is up, and the Bucks lose a lot defensively in this trade. But Lillard is a superstar, and odds are, the Bucks aren’t going to get worse with him.
• The Bucks improved, but they already were better than the Knicks. The Heat, however, have gotten worse.
They lost key role players Max Strus and Gabe Vincent in free agency, and now don’t have the impact player they had sought. The big question, though, is whether Holiday winds up back in the Eastern Conference when this is all said and done. Portland is planning to move him, according to multiple reports.
At 33, Holiday is still an elite defender and strong 3-point shooter.
He would make a difference for any contender, particularly the Heat. And Miami and Portland obviously talked plenty about different trade packages throughout the summer. Another team to potentially keep an eye on is the Raptors, who have a need at guard.
Holiday would be a pretty nice backcourt complement to Brunson with the Knicks, but as The Post’s Mike Vaccaro wrote, the question is what it might cost in terms of players of value and draft capital.
Evan can wait
Media day is Monday, followed by the start of training camp.
And Evan Fournier is still a Knick.
Beyond saying he felt as if he was being “held hostage” by the Knicks, the 30-year-old, out-of-the-rotation guard struck a different tone in his latest interview on his basketball purgatory.
“I want to leave,” Fournier told French radio station RTL. “But beyond leaving, I want to have the opportunity to get some playing time back. That’s all. That’s mostly it. Because in New York, I feel extremely good. I love living there, I love the franchise, I love playing at Madison [Square Garden], I love the guys on the team. So I just want to play, that’s all.”