On A cold Saturday in Tarrytown, Julius Randle kept the freeze going between him, Knicks fans and media.
The Knicks were staging media availability for the first time since Thursday’s New Orleans debacle, and the scribes requested Randle following practice.
Randle hasn’t spoken to the press since after practice on Jan. 11, when the forward grouchily and repeatedly refused to go beyond an Instagram statement that served as an apology for a thumbs-down “STFU’’ gesture toward Knicks fans. The Instagram post may or may not have been written by Randle.
On Saturday, the Knicks trotted out their new spokesman, RJ Barrett, who is garnering good will for facing the music after every tough loss. Then, out came the recently acquired Cam Reddish, Barrett’s former Duke teammate, who is set to make his Knicks debut Sunday in a Garden matinee against the Clippers.
There was no sign of Randle, who has disappeared on and off the court in a stunning fall from grace.
The Knicks took the hit for Randle, absorbing the NBA’s $25,000 fine for Randle not talking with the media after Thursday’s blowout loss.
The Knicks encouraged the press to write that the club did not make Randle available. That seems farfetched, because Randle’s media boycott has been going on too long for anyone to believe that.
That was an accumulation fine because Randle had blown off the media after eight of the past nine games. The immaturity started Jan. 4 — when the Knicks beat the Pacers.
The silence hasn’t gotten Randle out of his funk. This behavior likely confirms he won’t be named again to the All-Star Game.
Reserves — based on the coaches’ vote — will be announced Feb. 3. Randle hasn’t been in the top 10 among Eastern Conference forwards in All-Star fan voting, which ends this weekend.
There are a ton of hypotheses regarding Randle’s regression, including the empty-gym thesis, but one NBA personnel man blames it on signing a $117 million contract extension.
“When you sign that type of contract, there comes a sense of entitlement, feeling now I’m the guy,’’ the personnel man said. “He believes he has to do more and has to be more selfish. He got some success and now he feels a bigger responsibility.’’
To keep up the company line, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau played into the supposition the Knicks prevented Randle from talking after a four-point, minus-26 disaster against the Pelicans on Thursday in which he got booed all night.
If Randle really had agreed to speak, the only conspiracy theory is Knicks management was worried he would go off the rails or he has requested a trade and they didn’t want it out.
“The big thing is just be focused on the next game and winning,’’ Thibodeau said. “So, we felt the best thing for the team was to do that. So that’s what we’re gonna do.’’
More likely, the Knicks didn’t want Randle fined again as he tries to dig himself out of this hole. In the past nine games since he stopped coming to press conferences, Randle is averaging 16.8 points and shooting 38.9 percent — including 22.9 percent from 3-point land.
Against New Orleans, Randle couldn’t get to the basket and became too tentative.
The Pelicans used smaller wings and laid off Randle’s suddenly wayward 3-point shot. The 2020-21 Second Team All-NBA selection found no angles against a scheme that perhaps the Pelicans stole from Atlanta’s blueprint for the playoffs last spring.
“I think we’re at our best when he’s attacking the rim,’’ Thibodeau said. “The more he attacks the rim, the better it is. And it’s not just his scoring, but it’s the rim reads and sprays that triggers.’’
Except none of it is happening. It’s the largest reason the Knicks (22-24) look like a lottery team. The head of the snake has been defanged.
But the worst part is Randle’s handling of this adversity. He’s showing signs he’s ill-equipped to be a superstar in the NBA’s biggest media market.
Randle never could have imagined this after signing that contract extension. He appears stunned that fans turned on him so quickly after an early season slump.
He needs to get over it, because this is snowballing. Thibodeau sounded confident Randle will reemerge, on the court at least.
“Look, he’s been in the league a long time,’’ Thibodeau said. “And so he’s played at a high level. I’ve seen a lot of guys go through stretches where they haven’t shot well or a low-scoring game. It’s knowing that you’ve done it. If you haven’t done it, then there’s a bigger concern. He’s done it at a high level. It’ll bounce back around for you. He’s a terrific player.’’
After a nearly two-hour wait for Randle, Reddish was huddled into a private room with Rebecca Haarlow for an MSG Network exclusive, then escorted into the practice facility’s interview headquarters.
Maybe this was symbolism: Out with the old, in with the new.