NBA Rumor: Frank Ntilikina Trade?

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So now, entering the final season of his contract, he finds himself in a familiar place, looking to acclimate to and impress a new head coach, his fourth in four seasons, and trying to tune out the trade rumors that already are rising through the NBA. And that’s tough. “It is,’’ Ntilikina said in a Zoom interview. “But it’s part of the game. It’s part of the league. The past is the past and we have a new team now and new goals. So we’re focusing on the future, on the present, on how we can get better each and every day. And how we can make our goals be real . . . Work is just going to take care of everything. “That’s what I’m focusing on. Working, doing the best I can do to help this team get better, to help this team complete their goals. But the rest, the business part, is going to take care of itself. I’m here to get better every day, get this team better. but it is what it is.”

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However, scouts and executives around the league remain interested in Ntilikina, at least at a low cost. What this season holds for him in New York remains a mystery, too. The Knicks brought back Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr. and grabbed Immanuel Quickley in the first round of the draft, creating a logjam at point guard. It remains to be seen if Ntilikina can win the job over that crew — particularly with some in the organization hoping to increase Smith’s value — or if his best role might be off the bench as a defensive specialist at multiple positions.

Payton made his second straight start against Washington on Monday and notched 12 assists, but missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in the 121-115 loss. It could be a permanent look, raising questions about Ntilikina’s long-term future as a Knick. Ntilikina had started 23 of 24 games before Saturday — missing one game with an injury. Ntilikina had left the locker room before reporters were let in Saturday night. In breaking his silence, the 2017 lottery pick said, “[Payton’s] playing great basketball. It looks easy for him, seeing the court, making those guys comfortable. He’s a great teammate that I can learn a lot from.”

One NBA personnel man told The Post Ntilikina would have been better off spending at least one more season overseas, in a higher-quality European league than in France. Instead, Ntilikina entered the NBA as a 19-year-old and former Knicks president Phil Jackson drafted him at No. 8 to run the triangle. Jackson was fired days later. “I’m comfortable,’’ Ntilikina said of the switch. “It’s just a role change. When I’m on the court, I know it’s my job. I got to do my job and bring everything I can to the team.’’

With the trade deadline a few weeks away, we’ve been asking teams about the trade value of some of the Knicks. We also asked a few teams about Frank Ntilikina’s value: “They drafted him at eight (Ntilikina was the eighth overall pick in 2017) and they’re obviously not going to get back a top-10 pick for him,” one team said. “But he still has value. A lot of people value him around the league because he’s still young (21) and he plays defense. His shot isn’t there, but there’s reason to think he can improve. Getting a second round pick for him, that’s not even a question. I’m not sure about a first, maybe a late first. You can’t rule it out. Crazier things have happened in this league.”

Entering Friday’s game against Miami, he’s averaging six points, three assists, 1.3 steals and two rebounds per game. He’s shooting 38 percent overall and 34 percent from beyond the arc. “I think teams definitely still value him. Maybe you can get a late first from someone for him because he’s still young,” one team said. “Maybe it’s like a (Markelle) Fultz situation where it’s best for both parties to move on. You know he can defend. You just don’t know what he can be offensively. He’s been so inconsistent there.”

Another team isn’t as high on Ntilikina: “I think they could get back another young player that’s been struggling or a second rounder. Definitely not a first.” A team we spoke with that didn’t rule out the possibility of New York getting a late first for Ntilikina suggested a team may value the known quantity in Ntilikina over the unknown of a draft prospect. “You know what you have (in Ntilikina). Is he better than a kid coming into the draft that you’d get at the end of the first round?”

“I’m happy to be a Knick,’’ Ntilikina said Sunday in his first comments since April while dropping by the Knicks’ 105-100 overtime summer league loss to the Suns. “I still take as much as I can get from every situation. I’m still in a Knick jersey. I’m happy to be here. I work very hard to make this situation successful.’’

It’s logical to think that there are no players on the Knicks roster who are off limits when it comes to potential trades, but 2017 first-round pick Frank Ntilikina is one player who members of the organization are open to listening to offers on, sources confirm. Ntilikina has been a part of trade rumors for several months. It is unclear what the Knicks would be looking for in return for a Ntilikina deal, but the New York Post, which first reported the Knicks’ willingness to move Ntilikina, says the club is looking for a late first or second-round pick.

When pressed further, Fizdale cited Ntilikina’s versatility as his long-term fit in New York. We’ll see how long this tenuous partnership lasts. Ntilikina spent most of his sophomore season either injured, ineffective or buried on the bench. During what will probably devolve into the worst season in franchise history, Ntilikina racked up four DNP-CD’s in December — including on Christmas after his mother flew in for the game. The Knicks are expected to shop Ntilikina this summer and it’s hardly a ringing endorsement when the owner of the team — James Dolan — let’s out an audible sigh when asked by ESPN Radio why he didn’t fire Phil Jackson before making the draft pick.

The Knicks could trade Ntilikina in the offseason and there was a market ahead of the February deadline. They didn’t bite on previous offers, but that doesn’t mean they won’t in the future. A source told the Daily News that GM Scott Perry, who was hired after the Knicks drafted Ntilikina, approached a member of the Hawks front office to test his appetite for a deal before the February trade deadline. The Hawks, however, have Trae Young and weren’t interested.

Ntilikina has seen his production wither over the last few weeks, with his playing time drawn down too. He’s been moved from the wing to the point and back, and fallen into a shooting slump, hitting 33.3 percent of his shots this season. Still, teams remain curious about the 2017 lottery pick, who is raw offensively but already a stout, long-limbed, defensive player who has shown advanced skill there. The Magic have shown interest in the 20-year-old, according to a league source, with a scout in Philadelphia last night watching him. “He’s intriguing,” a different scout said.

There are other risks, too. For example, how will Mudiay’s presence affect Ntilikina’s development? Perry was adamant with reporters that the Knicks remain high on Ntilikina’s future (the team, according to league sources, rebuffed numerous trade proposals for Ntilikina prior to Thursday’s deadline). They think Mudiay and Ntilikina can share the floor, which they did for 28 minutes in Mudiay’s Knicks debut Sunday against the Indiana Pacers (to the tune of an impressive plus-8.9 net rating, per NBA.com, in a 121-113 loss).

Hornacek said Ntilikina’s early fragility has not diminished his excitement over his basketball IQ – essential for a point guard. Of course, Hornacek likely is torn since he coached Bledsoe in Phoenix and admitted he was “great for us’’ there. “We brought him in to develop him,’’ Hornacek said. “When he doesn’t have the injuries, he’s a smart kid. Tell him once, he’s got the plays. He’s got to battle these nagging injuries. We want him back as soon as possible so we can play him.”
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January 25, 2021 | 10:04 pm EST Update