Entering the 2019-20 season, the New York Knicks look very different from last year’s 17-win squad. After a very active summer, the Knicks added nine new players – many of whom will play a featured role. One such additions is veteran swingman Wayne Ellington, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal.
HoopsHype caught up with Ellington to discuss his decision to sign with New York, expectations for this season, the Knicks’ offseason workouts, his various NBA stops, his veteran leadership and more.
Can you walk me through you free-agency experience and why you ultimately decided to sign with the New York Knicks?
Wayne Ellington: There were a lot of teams that were interested. I spoke to a lot of different teams and considered a lot of different situations, but [my agent] Mark Bartelstein and I just felt like this was the perfect situation for me. Obviously, New York is a very young team. They have a nice young core with Kevin Knox, who they drafted last year, and RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, who was one of the first people I heard from. He was hitting me up like, “Yo, I need you, man! I need your shooting!” Things just came together pretty quickly, honestly. The interest was mutual and I just feel like it’s going to be a great situation. A lot of people are counting us out, and we hear all of those rumblings. We hear all of it. We’re excited and we’re a very motivated group.
I talked to Bobby Portis and Elfrid Payton recently and they both said that this team has a lot of dogs, a lot of guys with the same attitude. They also stressed that everyone is going to push each other and that the practices will be intense since there will be a lot of competition. When the whole team has the same mentality and there’s a lot of competition day-to-day, how beneficial is that?
WE: Man, I think that’s the recipe for success. When you have guys that are this motivated and this hungry, guys who get after it every single day and put that work in, I think that’s the recipe for success. I think that perfectly describes this group. Like Bobby and Elfrid were saying, we got a bunch of dogs who are relentless, who will get after it. We really do. That’s the DNA of this team, man. Win, lose or draw, at the end of the game, the opponent is going to feel us. They’re going to feel like they had a fight that night.
Recently, a number of Knicks players got together for group workouts in Los Angeles. Were you able to make it out to L.A. for those training sessions?
WE: Nah, I wasn’t able to make it to L.A., but I was in Miami last week and we had a few guys come into town to get some work in, so that was good as well.
There are nine new players on this roster. You’ve played for a number of different teams, so what are the keys to getting everyone acclimated and how long does that adjustment typically take?
WE: I think the key is doing what we’ve already been doing, which is getting together right now. We’re not wasting any time, not waiting until training camp for guys to get together and meet each other and train together. I think we’re doing it perfectly. Like you said, there was a group of guys out in L.A. and then there was a group in Miami last week. That’s the key: Having the guys get familiar with each other and get comfortable with each other now so when camp comes, all of that stuff is out of the way. We’ll all know each other already. We’ll still have to learn some things on the court with each other, but it’s much easier and the process moves a lot faster when you’ve already spent time with the guys and you’ve already gotten to know them on a personal level.
You mentioned the young guys like RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox. You’re known for providing leadership and mentoring players. What are some things you’re trying to teach the young guys in terms of being a professional and succeeding in the league?
WE: That’s one of the things I talked to Fiz (David Fizdale) about before committing here – filling that leadership role. I want to be someone who guides the young guys and shows them the way. [I’m stressing] accountability – being able to look themselves in the mirror and hold themselves accountable. I think that’s one of the top things. Putting the team first and understanding that in order for the team to have success, it can’t be about “me, me, me,” it has to be about us. And just things like being on time, making sure you’re putting in the proper work every day and creating great habits. Those are just a few of the things that I’m going to be preaching and showing these young guys.
New York is a huge market, which means there’s a lot of pressure. The media can be really tough in New York too. How do you prepare the young guys for that?
WE: I think you have to make sure that they understand that this is a business and that it’s the reporter’s job to ask tough questions and make a story, and it’s our job to handle those questions the right way. You have to stay cool. Don’t let anyone get you riled up. There are going to be stories that come out that talk badly about you and feature negative stuff, but that’s all part of the game, man. You need to be able to handle it the right way because that’s part of being a professional. Always stay positive, never talk bad about a teammate and try to take your emotion out of it even if you feel some type of way. And you have to understand that if you say something, it’s going to be out there for the whole world to see, so just stay positive. Whatever you do, try to remain positive.
When you were young, which veterans showed you the ropes and taught you how to be a good pro?
WE: There were a few different guys, honestly. When I first came into the league, I was on a young team and there wasn’t much of a veteran presence. But after I left Minnesota, I ended up going to Memphis, which was great for me because I was able to learn from some great vets like Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley. These are all guys who are professionals and I saw the way they worked and the way they went about everything. I saw why this team had success. They worked their butts off every day. Their motto was “Grit and Grind” and they grinded every single day. That was the first team I was on that really opened my eyes. After that, I was in Dallas where I got to watch one of the all-time greats in Dirk Nowitzki and see how he worked every single day. I got to learn from Vince Carter too. Later, I got to be around Kobe Bryant. I was around some great guys and I learned a whole lot!
You’ve been so consistent throughout your career and had success on many different teams. No matter where you are, you manage to carve out a role and emerge as a key contributor. That’s not easy to do.
WE: It is hard. Honestly, it’s really hard, especially when you’re a young player in all of these different situations – having to learn new stuff and be the new guy over and over again. It was tough for me. But there were certain things that I knew I could always control like my work ethic, my professionalism and how I approached the game every single day. I really focused on those things and I think that’s why I was able to have success and stay in the league. Most young guys that play for team after team and are in the kind of situations I was in, a lot of those guys don’t stay in the league. Those things I mentioned were crutches for me; I honestly think those things helped me prevail.
There were a lot of New York fans who were upset that the team didn’t land Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving. I’ve also seen some Knicks fans who aren’t sure what to expect from this group that’s been assembled. What message do you have for fans about this team?
WE: I think if they’re a little patient, everyone is going to love the end result. Like Elfrid and Bobby, I agree that we embody what New York basketball is about – the toughness, the grind. We’ll be working our butts off every single night and playing as hard as possible. We’ll be picking guys up all 94 feet and bringing that defensive mentality. And obviously the name of the game is putting the ball in the basket, and we have guys who can do that as well. Everyone was obviously focusing on the other team in New York because of the signings they had this summer, but I think we’re going to shock a whole lot of people.
I feel like you’re one of those guys who will have your pick of post-playing careers. I could see you succeed as a coach, executive or broadcaster. Do you know what you want to do when your NBA career is over? (Hopefully, far down the road!)
WE: (Laughs) Hopefully it’s a pretty long time from now! I have started to think about it a little bit, but I haven’t really decided anything. I’m keeping all of my options open. I have thought about all of those things. I’ve thought about coaching, I’ve thought about working in a front office and I’ve thought about broadcasting. They all came to mind, but nothing has really jumped out to me yet. I feel like I still have some years to put a plan together. I definitely want to put a plan together for the future [before I retire].
Ah, so you’re going to be like Chauncey Billups and have the media companies and teams bidding over you. That’s a great spot to be in!
WE: (Laughs) That’s an amazing spot to be in! Chauncey is one of the guys who I really look up to.
Congratulations on having your second child this summer! What’s the biggest difference between raising your second baby compared to your first baby?
WE: You’re a lot more prepared! There’s none of that anxiety. It’s not as scary this time. (Laughs) I feel a lot more prepared and calm this time.
You’re hosting a basketball tournament and back-to-school event this weekend in your hometown. Can you share some details?
WE: Yeah, the tournament and back-to-school event will be in Pottstown, PA – a place where I spent a lot of valuable time growing up. I just wanted to do something to give back to the community. We’re doing a basketball tournament where the winner gets some prize money and then we’re doing a backpack and school-supply giveaway as our back-to-school event. It’s really a big community event more than anything. We’ll have bounce houses, face-painting, food and music. It’s just something positive for the community. I want everyone to come out on a Saturday and enjoy themselves.
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