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Julius Randle’s desire to stay puts massive decision on Knicks

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Julius Randle cracked a smile when asked about his long-term future with the franchise.

Does he want to be a Knick for life?

“It’s always a thought,” the 26-year-old Randle said. “When I came here almost two years ago, that was the plan. I wanted to be here long term. I want to be a Knick. So my thoughts never changed. I would definitely love to be here long term. When we get to that part, sit down and talk, whatever. But right now I’m more so focused on the team, getting a win tonight (vs. Detroit).”

The Knicks, who enter the All-Star break after Thursday’s Garden match vs. Detroit, have a team option on Randle for the 2021-22 season with just $4 million guaranteed. There was once a thought, during the long pandemic offseason, that if Randle wasn’t traded, a tough decision would exist. Should the Knicks exercise the team option or use it as cap space for 2021 free agency?

Former Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry signed Randle. Mills is gone and Perry has a lesser decision-making role.

Now the only decision for new Knicks brass, Leon Rose and William Wesley, this summer is whether to try to renegotiate a contract extension for Randle, who will make his first All-Star appearance Sunday in Atlanta.

As much as Randle’s three-year, $60 million contract seemed when he signed it, it’s not that overwhelming now. Randle stands to make $20 million in his final season. That’s a lot less than the max. Under Randle’s third-year figure, the Knicks could only offer him a top deal of four years, $106 million that would extend starting in 2022-23 at $24 million, according to ESPN’s cap guru Bobby Marks.

If nothing happens, Randle stands to be a restricted free agent in 2022.

“We’ll see when we get to that time,” Randle said. “But right now, I’m really just focused on what we have to do as a team. That’s so far ahead in the future. When that time presents itself I’ll be ready, we’ll talk or whatever, but I’m really just focused on this team, first off getting a win tonight going into all-star break, getting my body right so I’m healthy, staying on top of what I have to, starting off the second half of the season strong. That’s where my focus is right now.”

Randle was to play in his 37th game Thursday, not missing any. By comparison, fellow All-Star Kevin Durant, the top vote-getter in the Eastern Conference, has played in 19 of the Nets’ 37 games. Durant is battling a hamstring issue and won’t play in Sundays All-Star Game.

Randle is also averaging 36.6 minutes – third in the league. He’s first in total minutes (1,316).

Nobody could use a break more than Randle, but he’d have none of it. He’ll be in Atlanta this weekend.

Julius Randle on March 2, 2021
Julius Randle on March 2, 2021
NBAE via Getty Images

“Not at all. I feel great,” Randle said. “Everything, as far as training, what I’ve done throughout the season to take care of my body, has prepared me for game after game, what I’m able to do out there. I’ll go to Atlanta, enjoy the time with the players, enjoy the time with my family and come back here and get ready It’s not even that long of a break to be honest with you, so I’ll be in season mode, getting ready.”

Randle penned a piece in The Players’ Tribune this week, reflecting on his not-so-glorious first season with the Knicks in 2019-20.

He got more detailed about the difficulty of suddenly become a team’s No. 1 option and highest-paid player. He got so caught up on scoring, he failed as a leader, Randle wrote.

“I had it in my head that for this team, in this situation, they were paying me a lot of money because they wanted me to get a lot of shots up,” Randle said. “It didn’t turn out so well.

“For one, to be honest, I don’t think I realized everything that goes into being a #1 option in the NBA. You’re the head of the snake, and that’s not just some tough talk. That really means something. It means the other team’s defense is dialed in with an actual game-plan to stop you.

“I think I was so focused on proving myself as a #1 option, that I lost sight of some of my other responsibilities to the team. For example, I was supposed to be one of our leaders — someone who could help establish what our identity was as a group, and who could set an example of what it took to be a winning player in this league. Someone who could not only play at a high level, but who could also raise the level of those around him. As much as the team needed my scoring last year…. they might have needed my leadership even more. And I didn’t give it to them.”

Randle has provided it all in 2020-21 with averages of 23.1 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 41.2 percent from 3. And the Knicks’ .500 record without Randle missing a game speaks volumes.

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