BOSTON - Cleanthony Early's time to show the Knicks whether he can be a part of their future is right in front of him.
The Knicks have 26 games remaining and they're looking to see which players are keepers. Early is one of four Knicks with a guaranteed deal for next season, but it doesn't mean he definitely will return, especially if his salary helps facilitate a trade.
It would help Early -- and the Knicks -- if he took advantage of the minutes and opportunities he's given. The rookie forward came off the bench and had eight points in 24 minutes of Wednesday night's 115-94 loss to the Celtics.
Early, the No. 34 pick, has gone from being one of the better players in college last year to just another rookie struggling to show he belongs in the NBA. He readily admits he hasn't played well.
"Not at all," Early said. "Not at all. For me, it's [about] continuing to work hard and doing what I need to do to eventually get where I need to be, and helping my teammates and hopefully getting on the right track sooner than later."
Boston took control of the game with a 20-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, and outscored the Knicks 44-22 over the final 14:49. It was the Knicks' eighth straight loss.
Like the Knicks (10-46), this season has been a struggle for Early, who missed six weeks after undergoing right knee surgery in November and rolled his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Cavaliers. He's also been sent to the D-League twice to get in some game action.
The former Wichita State standout is averaging 4.0 points over 13.8 minutes in 21 games, and shooting just 34.7 percent. In his last eight games, Early is 8-for-29 with 16 points.
Early is getting more of an opportunity now that Carmelo Anthony is out for the season, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are in Cleveland and the Knicks are preparing for the future. Derek Fisher said Early shouldn't worry about his shooting and just focus on making a positive impact.
"As a young player, or any player who is trying to solidify an opportunity for himself: Find what it is you can do to just help the team," Fisher said. "So defense and energy and being a guy that plays with passion is what attracted everybody to him and why we drafted him. Those are the things you want to see from Cle every night, and if he makes a shot we'll take that, too."
Fisher wouldn't say whether he's seen those things enough from Early because of the injuries, the rookie transition and that he plays the same position as Anthony. "I don't think we can judge whether we've seen certain things or not from him," Fisher said.
When Early mentioned things he hopes to show in his extended minutes, scoring seemed to be an afterthought. He is a mature young man, emphasis on man. He's not like most rookies -- 19 or 20 years old. Early spent four years in college and will be 24 in April. He's not a finished product, but his room to grow and develop could be less than the usual one-and-done or two-and-out rookies.
"I just want to play basketball honestly, and do what I do," Early said. "If that's run the floor, play defense, get stops, being a team guy, be able to be vocal, just show some toughness with the rest of the guys. That's it really. Put the ball in the basket. Do what I showed I can do on the basketball court."