Knicks’ misleading Julius Randle info is troubling sign for other injured star

I queued up a column idea from about a month ago. It was previewing Julius Randle’s return to the court, which, at the time, felt imminent as Tom Thibodeau provided consistently positive — albeit misleading, it turns out — updates about the rehab.

The point of the column was that fans should temper their expectations, ease up on the vitriol if Randle struggles. Dislocated shoulders are tricky to navigate without surgery. Painful.

I didn’t expect the All-Star version of Randle to come back this season. Apparently neither did Randle, because he re-injured his shoulder during a contact session about five weeks ago.

“My s–t wasn’t stable,” Randle revealed to Bleacher Report. “I felt like I was in the same state when I first dislocated it, and it’s been an uphill battle ever since [the setback].”

In the wake Thursday’s announcement of Randle’s season-ending surgery, Thibodeau said before the game that losing his power forward for the season was his default position, as if the coach hadn’t been saying the opposite until this week. Thibodeau had also denied that Randle suffered a setback in his recovery, claiming for weeks the power forward just wasn’t yet cleared for contact.

Julius Randle was ruled out for the rest of the Knicks’ season
due to his shoulder injury. Jason Szenes for the NY Post

Randle said otherwise in his interview with Bleacher Report, though the story later edited his direct quote from a “full-contact session” to a “full-contact session in pads.”

So either there was a big miscommunication, damage control or Thibs fibs.

A Knicks spokesman offered a “no comment” about the Randle interview.

Between the OG Anunoby injury roller coaster and the Randle misrepresentation, the Knicks have a credibility issue with their injury information.

Which brings us to Anunoby — who Thibodeau claimed Thursday has been cleared for contact — and why I brought up my column idea from a month ago about Randle.

OG Anunoby has been cleared for contact, according to Tom Thibodeau. Charles Wenzelberg

We all remember what happened last year when Randle played at considerably less than 100 percent. The postseason ended with a group of Knicks fans, gathered outside of MSG and upset after the elimination to the Heat, removing a Randle poster from the wall before stomping on it, dancing on it, kicking it.

“Who is that? Is that Julius Randle?” the cameraman asks during the social media video. “OK, that makes sense.”

The scene was cringey and embarrassing, but singling out Randle made sense to the cameraman because the player was woefully inefficient in those playoffs. If there was somebody to blame for that second-round exit, it surely wasn’t Jalen Brunson — who dominated against Miami despite Candace Parker claiming otherwise.

Maybe it was on Thibodeau, who was outcoached by Erik Spoelstra, or role players for either being unavailable (Immanuel Quickley) or shooting poorly (Josh Hart).

But the obvious candidate was Randle. He had suffered that ankle sprain toward the end of the regular season, then again in the first round against Cleveland. He continued playing while forgoing surgery, and he tried to do it again this year until the top of the hourglass emptied.

Randle would’ve helped the offense this time but, on a pained shoulder with no runway to ramp up for the playoffs, he wasn’t the key to unlocking the Knicks.

Randle needs the ball to be effective, and it’s tough to command the ball if his shoulder isn’t cooperating. So yes, the ceiling of the team lowered considerably without a healthy Randle, a deserved three-time All-Star. But it didn’t change dramatically from the ceiling of having an injured Randle, especially one who hadn’t played for over two months and suffered what sounded like a pretty devastating setback. The Miami series showed that last year.

Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks probably aren’t championship contenders after the Julius Randle news. Charles Wenzelberg

Anunoby is a different story.

He’s already undergone his surgery. He’s also a 3-and-D player who doesn’t require the rock to impact winning and fits into every lineup like a skeleton key.

The Knicks probably aren’t a championship contender, and they haven’t been since Randle broke his fall over Jamie Jaquez Jr. in January. But they can still be dangerous with Brunson steering the Villanova ship like during Thursday’s impressive 120-109 victory over the Kings. And Anunoby, rusty or not, will only enhance that.

We just have to wait and see if he comes back while understanding the Knicks probably won’t be forthcoming about it.

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