Home News Knicks done hoping for injured stars to return: ‘That’s how we have...

Knicks done hoping for injured stars to return: ‘That’s how we have to approach it – like those guys aren’t coming back’

In the middle of the 2022-23 NBA season, the Nets became a prisoner of their own hope — hope an oft-injured star in Ben Simmons would make a miraculous return to help power a futile Eastern Conference playoff run.

The Nets traded a disgruntled James Harden for Simmons, who hadn’t played the entire first half of the season due to a combination of mental health and lower back issues.

The hope? Simmons would return in time for the end of the season as the missing puzzle piece tying a Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving-led Nets offense together.

In the end, hope was useless.

Simmons never recovered in time to help the Nets, whose only hope in avoiding a first-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics hinged on the embattled forward’s triumphant return.

Hope only prolonged the inevitable. The Knicks would rather get out in front of it.

The Knicks are walking a comparable path to their cross-bridge rivals of two seasons ago, only instead of hoping their formidable starting front court walks through the Madison Square Garden doors to return from injury ahead of a second consecutive playoff push, New York is operating as if what they have is what they will have.

Three-time NBA All-Star Julius Randle has been sidelined since Jan. 27 with a dislocated right shoulder that hasn’t quite recovered as smoothly as anyone had hoped.

OG Anunoby isn’t quite out of the woods after early February right elbow surgery, and Mitchell Robinson aggravated an injury to his surgically-repaired left ankle two games after a three-and-a-half-month hiatus.

Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein and Miles McBride have been thrust into the starting lineup, and the Knicks have kept their heads above water. New York is still within arm’s reach of the East’s No. 2 seed after Sunday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks are 15-13 since Anunoby and Randle left the rotation after the Jan. 27 victory over the Heat.

And without their entire starting front court, they only lost to the West’s No. 1-seeded Thunder by one, on an Easter Sunday game-winner from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Things may have been different had Randle, Anunoby and Robinson been on the floor, but the Knicks won’t look at things that way.

Their head coach believes — even shorthanded — the Knicks have enough to win any game, plus they’ve proven their ability to do as much, which is why they won’t hinge themselves to their stars’ potential return.

They won’t hold out hope, only deal in reality.

“I’m looking at it like this is the team we’re going to have,” Hart, starting in place of Anunoby, said on Sunday. “I think that’s how we have to approach it, [like] those guys aren’t coming back.

“And obviously we’ll be pleasantly surprised if they come back. I’m not in those medical conversations or anything like that, so I don’t know s—t from s—t. But we’ve got to approach it every game at the end of this season [like] those guys aren’t coming back, and if they do, be pleasantly surprised.”

Here’s where we are on each of the Knicks’ three key injured players:

  • Robinson took a “wrong step” in the first half of a Dec. 8 loss to the Boston Celtics. The play resulted in a stress fracture to the star center’s left ankle. Robinson, who began the season on an historic offensive rebounding spree, missed more than three months of action and returned in New York’s March 27 victory over the Toronto Raptors. In the ensuing game against the Spurs, he tweaked his surgically-repaired ankle but continued to play an entire five-minute overtime stretch after Hartenstein fouled out in the fourth quarter. Robinson sat Sunday’s matchup against the Thunder with what the team listed as a sprained ankle on the injury report.
  • Randle dislocated his right shoulder in the final minutes of the Knicks’ Jan. 27 victory over the Miami Heat. The All-Star forward opted against season-ending surgery, choosing instead to rehab with the hopes of returning for a Knicks playoff run. The process, however, has not been as smooth as the Knicks had hoped. With nine games remaining on the regular season schedule, Randle has not yet been upgraded to taking full contact or playing five-on-five. He is strengthening his shoulder, but there is nothing resembling a definitive timeline for his injury return available.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said Anunoby hasn’t taken contact since the last time he played in a March 16 victory over the Sacramento Kings — the third game Anunoby played after his return from early February elbow surgery. The star forward acquired in the deal with the Toronto Raptors underwent a procedure to remove a loose bone fragment from his right, shooting elbow, but he aggravated the fragile area once in each of his first two games back on the floor, most notably a swipe-down on Portland’s center DeAndre Ayton in a March 14 victory over the Trail Blazers. Thibodeau said there has been no real progress on either Anunoby or Randle, but said Randle’s status can turn at any moment: “Just keep doing what he’s doing, day to day. You never know when it turns,” he said ahead of tipoff on Monday. “That’s basically the approach we take. Rehab is really your game, so put everything you have into that. And eventually you’ll get there; you can’t get discouraged; just keep working at it. The other guys, they have a job to do.”

Next up, the Knicks travel to Miami to face the No. 7 Miami Heat on Tuesday. The Knicks enter the matchup on a two-game skid. With the No. 5 Orlando Magic just a game behind in the standings, home-court playoff advantage is in jeopardy for a depleted New York team.

The Knicks are uncertain their stars will return to the fold, and while they refuse to use it as an excuse, they also refuse to deal in terms other than reality. And in reality, it’s hard to win big games with an All-Star and two Defensive Player of the Year candidates out of the rotation.

“You can’t forget: We have three starters out right now, so normally you have two starters on the floor with your second group,” Thibodeau said, explaining his rotation staggering around Jalen Brunson. “But we’ve got more than enough. … They’re sitting on top of the West. We’re a basket away from winning the ball game, and so Alexander’s shot goes out, we’re sitting here talking about a whole different narrative. And so, it didn’t, we’ve gotta regroup, go down to Miami and we’ve gotta get ready for that. And that’s the mindset I want us to have. We’ve got a resilient group, tough-minded. Sometimes you get knocked down. You’ve gotta get back up. You’ve gotta fight.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here