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Knicks center Mitchell Robinson said he’s not going to have any “hurt feelings” about not starting this season in favor of Nerlens Noel even with his contract situation for next season yet to be resolved.
Earlier in training camp, Robinson said he hoped to start this season, his third, after being a backup to Taj Gibson in 2019-20.
Across last season, Robinson said he was happy to come off the bench. While his tone is different now, Robinson said he won’t “make a problem.”
After all, the center tag team duo of Noel-Robinson was a gem defensively in Friday’s preseason-opening 90-84 victory with the tall duo combining for 15 rebounds and four blocks. Robinson also had four steals.
“It is what it is,” Robinson said Sunday after the Knicks’ morning shootaround in Detroit. “I’m going to go out there and play hard. I really don’t mind starting or don’t mind not starting. I don’t have hurt feelings. I’m just going to go out there and just be the best me.”
When pressed on how much he cares about it, Robinson stated, “Not really. As long as I can go out there and help my teammates I really don’t care if I start or not. It’s early. I’m not going to sit down and pout about it. I’m not going to make a problem or whatever. As long as I get to play, I’m fine with that.”
His Louisiana high school coach, Butch Stockton, didn’t seem as fine if Robinson takes a backseat to Noel this season. On Twitter after the game Friday night, Stockton tweeted:
“Mitchell Robinson is a better player than Noel!! He’s more athletic and can do more things than Noel !!”
Friday morning, Robinson shared an Instagram story that mentioned a lack of loyalty. He said Sunday that was “personal life” stuff and not basketball-related.
Robinson, a 2018 second-round pick, is in the third year of his team-friendly four-year contract. The Knicks have a team option for $1.8 million on Robinson for next season. The Knicks can rip it up and start anew or give him a healthy extension if they believe he’s their center of the future.
Robinson, 22, acknowledged his starting status could affect his future contract but wasn’t concerned.
“It might, it might not,” the 7-footer said. “I really don’t (know). When the time comes, I really don’t think about it that much. But it’s something that you just can’t control. However it comes is just how it comes. I really don’t be thinking of it like that. I just go out there and play.”
In training camp, Tom Thibodeau said Robinson had “a long way to go” and mentioned Noel having the same skill set. Noel, a former 2013 lottery pick out of Leon Rose’s favorite school, Kentucky, was signed to a one-year, $5 million pact. His Knicks debut in Detroit was sharp – 10 points (5 of 7 from the field), eight rebounds, two blocks.
Noel played 25 minutes to Robinson’s 21 minutes. That extra minute at center was occupied by Julius Randle in a rare tandem with rookie Obi Toppin – a scenario Thibodeau would like to further explore.
“You got two of the same people basically,” Robinson said of he and Noel. “It really don’t change (when we replace each other). He blocks shots. I block shots. He runs the floor. I run the floor. It’s like we can keep that wave going throughout the whole season. It’s pretty cool.”