With four games remaining in the Knicks’ season, Kurt Rambis and Arron Afflalo have become involved in a bizarre storyline.
After Sunday night’s five- point loss to Indiana, Rambis suggested that his decision to make Afflalo a backup might garner him more interest and money if he opts out of his contract this summer. The way this season is ending for Afflalo, that could be a matter of when, not if.
“I think him coming off the bench adds nothing but value to him,” Rambis said. “Whereas some teams may not be looking at him — if he decides to opt out of his contract — teams that might have somebody at his position, they don’t think of him as coming off the bench, they start to go, ‘OK, well, he’s got the right attitude, he’s going to come off the bench.’ And they can add some productivity for him.”
If Afflalo were to opt out of his contract, it would open up more money for the Knicks in free agency. They should have about $18 million, and it could be closer to $25 million if Afflalo walks.
Coming off the bench isn’t what Afflalo signed up for when he inked a two-year, $16-million contract last July that contains a player opt-out clause.
Afflalo expected to be the starter every game, and was under former coach Derek Fisher, but he lost his starting shooting guard job when he missed two games with an abdominal injury last month. He has come off the bench in 10 of the 11 games since returning. Rambis, the interim coach, has been starting Sasha Vujacic, who will be a free agent.
“Me going into my 10th year and being 30 years old and having some experience in this game, I think I have a good feel for what I can bring to a team,” Afflalo said. “With that being said, I’ll be a 12th man, I’ll be a sixth man, I’ll be a star player, I’ll be a second option if I feel it’s in the best interest of the team.
“Sometimes you can have a difference of opinion in what’s in the best interest of the team. I have no quarrels about any role on the team, if it’s in the best interest of the team, if I feel what I can bring at that position can help us.”
This is a continuation of a situation that arose last week in which Afflalo was adamant that Rambis never spoke to him about pulling him from the starting lineup.
Rambis said they had “an extensive conversation” last Tuesday in Dallas. On Wednesday morning, Afflalo said they hadn’t had a discussion. Afflalo finally acknowledged Sunday that they did indeed talk.
“We were able to meet then,” Afflalo said. “That’s between us. We talked about a myriad of things. Just move forward. You just move forward at this point in the season and do your best with it.”
Afflalo is third on the team in scoring, averaging 13.1 points. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, helping the Knicks erase an 18-point deficit and take a two-point lead with 1:18 left. But they couldn’t close out Indiana.
“He was playing with the right sort of Arron Afflalo attitude and intensity that we’ve all come to enjoy when he’s playing like that,” Rambis said.
Rambis has been looking for Afflalo to be like that more often in his new role. Afflalo said he could be a go-to guy off the bench, but it doesn’t seem he was prepared for that with the Knicks.
“I haven’t had a sixth-man role before, but I took pride in just being a versatile basketball player,” he said. “If the team called for that, I try to find ways to make myself capable of getting that job done.
“So am I capable? Yes. Is it something I feel I can bring here or anywhere else? Or can I bring more in a different dynamic? I still think so at this point of my career. So from my standpoint, you just move forward.”
Notes & quotes: Fisher, who was fired Feb. 8, will be a guest analyst on NBA TV’s “NBA Gametime” Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) and TNT’s pregame, halftime and “Inside the NBA” show during Thursday’s telecast.