The New York Knicks made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2013, and now enter 2021 with newfound expectations. They will also rely on a unique cast of characters that they hope will push them into the next level of contention.
While All-Star forward Julius Randle grabbed headlines last season, blossoming into a dominant post player for New York, it’s the backcourt that will dictate how far this team goes. And it’s led by two gritty veterans: Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker.
Rose, 32, turned back the clock to 2011 at times last season, electrifying a limited capacity Madison Square Garden. After arriving via trade from Detroit on Feb. 8, Rose appeared in 35 games for the Knicks, averaging 14.9 PPG and 4.2 APG, shooting a career high 41.1 percent from three. For his play, Rose was awarded with a three-year, $43 million during the offseason.
But Rose is no longer the new kid on the block. That distinction belongs to 31-year-old point guard Kemba Walker. Walker was a hot commodity during the 2019 offseason and signed a four-year, $141 million deal with the Boston Celtics. After a successful first season in 2019-2020, Walker’s numbers dipped slighty in 2020-2021 and he became the third option in the Boston offense behind budding stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Many were skeptical that Walker still had enough in the tank heading into this season, but the Knicks must’ve thought he did because they signed him to a two-year deal worth, though it’s worth just $8 million. Walker sees New York as an opportunity to prove people wrong and play alongside Rose, one of his favorite players.
“He’s one of the biggest reasons I came here,” said Walker, during Monday’s Media Day. “I wanted to be around him… I’ve always been a huge D-Rose fan. Regardless, starting, not starting, whatever, it doesn’t even matter. I just want to win. And to have a guy like him, former MVP, a guy who’s been through it all, to be on the same team as him is really special to me.
“I definitely want to build a special rapport with him, try to help him lead. I’ve seen this team last year and the way he played and pushed himself. Hopefully, I can take a little bit of pressure off of him.’’
Starting is not necessarily a priority for Walker, nor is it for Rose. Rose, however, said that the job is Walker’s, and he’s ok with that.
“He’s starting,” Rose said. “Whatever it takes to just change the game. I’m not worried about minutes or playing time. I know [Thibodeau] is going to handle that. But I feel like we have a deep team.”
Rose continued, saying that he will be ready no matter the role that is asked of him.
“I’m on Year 14. I’m appreciative to be here,” Rose said. “[Walker] is a starter. Coming in, he has a lot to prove being from New York. You have to give him the stage, being that he’s from here. You have to give him the opportunity. It’s not [about] fighting for a spot. My job is to fill in. But I just have to stay ready.’’
The Knicks will likely need both if they want to improve on last season’s 41-31 record. Even more importantly, Walker and Rose will be able to mentor the other young guards on the roster, like Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett.