- David Zalubowski/AP
One of the stranger stories around the New York Knicks has been the conflicting accounts of Arron Afflalo’s benching between interim head coach Kurt Rambis and Afflalo.
The two sides disagree on how it was handled. But even stranger is the explanation from Rambis on the benefit of the move – that being on the bench will help Afflalo when he is a free agent.
Afflalo, for most of the season, has been the Knicks’ starting shooting guard. In March, Rambis removed Afflalo from the starting lineup.
The move makes sense from a basketball perspective – Afflalo adds much-needed scoring to a Knicks’ second unit that occasionally lacks fire-power.
The odd part, however, is that the coach and player disagreed about how the move happened. Rambis said he and Afflalo had an “extensive conversation” to tell him that he would come off the bench. Afflalo openly disagreed with his coach, sounding frustrated with the move:
“There was no breakdown in communication. We never had the conversation. But there was no breakdown in communication. Coaches are entitled to do what’s best for the team. From that standpoint as a player you have to respect that, you have to do what’s asked of you. I don’t know why he would say there was a conversation. I never had a conversation about that except for at the Laker game. Beyond that, it’s OK. Players go through it all the time. It is what it is.”
Afflalo also said Rambis is entitled to his opinion that he’s better coming off the bench, but that he has his own opinion, again suggesting he’s not happy with the move.
The story grew stranger on Sunday when Rambis tried to describe his motive for benching Afflalo, and said it would help Afflalo on his next contract because it shows his versatility:
“Him coming off the bench adds nothing but value to him. Whereas some teams may not be looking at him if he decides to opt out of his contract, teams might have someone at his position and don’t think of him coming off the bench, well, they start to go to [think], OK, he has the right attitude and can add productivity. I just think the more versatile players are, the better they are around the league, the more things other teams can see the possibility for them.”
The Knicks signed Afflalo to a two-year, $16 million deal, with a player option for the second year this past offseason. Afflalo has until June 22 to decide whether to opt in for the second year or become a free agent. It’s expected he will opt out as the NBA’s salary cap is booming, giving him a chance to earn a higher salary, plus a longer contract.
What makes the entire situation stranger is that it seems the Knicks are trying to push him out the door. The Knicks need to add talent via free agency this offseason, and the potential $8 million in savings if Afflalo opts out could help their situation. The NBA world has speculated whether the benching of Afflalo was an attempt to make him more likely to opt out of his deal and become a free agent.
Regardless, Afflalo hasn’t thrived off the bench, as he’s averaging nine points on 36.5% shooting, 28% from three, with three rebounds per game. On March 31, Afflalo posted a cryptic Instagram that seemed to take a shot at the Knicks, saying:
“Two years of just control what you can control right? While making years of growth appear as if it has just stopped. Yea [sic] ok. 10th year coming up and this time around that s*** won’t be forgotten.”
Rambis’ suggestion that it will help his value seems like an odd one, and whether the Knicks are intentionally pushing Afflalo away or not, the relationship doesn’t seem to be improving.