It’s amazing what a coaching change and a change in culture can do for a franchise.
Back in April, Enes Kanter was leaning towards opting out of his contract with the Knicks. Financially, it didn’t seem the sensible move. The Knicks’ center was reportedly set to make $18.6 million, a significant number for a low-post center in a league that values perimeter players.
But as Kanter saw the direction the Knicks were headed, highlighted by their hiring of coach David Fizdale, the 6-foot-11, 245-pound wrecking ball of hustle and emotion came to the realization that he could be part of something special.
“With Coach Fizdale, I want to stay more,’’ Kanter told the New York Post. “I know his mentality, I know how much freedom he gives to his players.
“I think he’s going to change a lot of things. He seems like a relationship with him is like a friendship relationship. It’s not a player-coach relationship. I talked to him for two hours and it gives you so much confidence.’’
So, after exploring his options, Kanter exercised his opt-in clause and will don a Knicks jersey in what figures to be an intriguing 2018-19 season.
Under the player-friendly system that Fizdale favors, the addition of draft pick Kevin Knox and the developing Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks are certainly going to be entertaining. While Kristaps Porzingis continues to recover from the torn ACL in his left knee, every player will have to step up.
Knicks head coach David Fizdale shares what he sees in draft picks Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, what they need to work on and expectations for their rookie seasons.
Kanter has always stated his desire to remain in New York. His relentless hustle and outgoing personality make him a fan-favorite. And in New York, he has the platform to express his thoughts on international matters, particularly events in his native country of Turkey.
It’s no wonder that Kanter opted to announce he was opting in with a flamboyant Twitter post that would make any politician envious.
With two American flags crisscrossed behind him, Kanter is pictured standing behind a podium that has the phrase, ‘Kanter, Make the Knicks Great Again.’
— Enes Kanter (@Enes_Kanter) June 29, 2018
Kanter’s decision is hugely important for the Knicks. There is no timetable for KP’s return. It has been speculated that the 7-foot-3 forward could miss the entire season. Backup center Kyle O’Quinn already has opted out of his contract and Joakim Noah’s status remains uncertain.
Kanter, 26, solidifies the Knicks at the center position. With Kanter at the five, the Knicks could start Knox at the 4. Fizdale said he has no reservations about starting a rookie if he earns the spot.
The Knicks used their second-round pick on center Mitchell Robinson, a 7-foot-1 center who did not play any college ball. Robinson possesses breathtaking physical skills. If he makes the Knicks, he could certainly benefit from going against Kanter in practice and learning from the seven-year pro.
Kanter has used the nation’s largest media market to his advantage. He has been an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter’s father, Dr. Mehmet Kanter, was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Turkish government for being a member of a “terror group.” Dr. Kanter is not in custody.
“No matter what happens, I will continue to keep fighting for human rights and freedom of speech, justice and democracy above all,’’ Kanter said in a statement. “I will stand for what I believe in.’’
Kanter, who averaged 14.1 points and 11 rebounds last season, now finds himself in a desirable position. He knows his voice is amplified in New York.
Enes Kanter set a new career high for double-doubles with his 32nd of the season in the Knicks' game against the Blazers. Take a look back at the best moments of the season for the center.
He wants to sign a long-term deal with the Knicks and a strong 2018-19 season would enhance that chance. It would be in keeping with the Knicks’ plan of building with young talent. Kanter doesn’t turn 27 until next May.
“I remember during the draft I went to see a lot of organizations,’’ Kanter told ESPN’s Ian Begley. “But after you play in New York, you don’t really want to go anywhere else. The people around are so cool. I remember maybe it was my second month here. I was thinking, ‘This place is so cool, I want to retire here.’
“I remember one of the media guys was asking me, “Is it too early to decide because you’ve been here for not even a half season? Why did you want to decide that you wanted to retire as a Knick?” I was like, “This is the place I want to be.”’
Kanter will be for at least one more season.