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'It's Tough': Knicks' Nine-Man Rotation Cuts Out Evan Fournier, Quentin Grimes

The New York Knicks' fleeting success out west has come at a price for two of their most polarizing representatives.

So star-crossed are the new-century New York Knicks that, even when they win, it appears someone has to lose. 

New York (8-7) is rolling on relatively strong vibes after a players-only meeting opened a five-game west coast road trip. The immediate aftermath yielded consecutive victories over contenders from Utah and Denver and another test looms on Friday night against the defending champion Golden State Warriors (10 p.m. ET, MSG/ESPN).

Plenty have risen to the occasion as the Knicks have formed a mini-winning streak, their first since earning three straight at Madison Square Garden last month (Oct. 21-26). The meeting's organizer, Julius Randle, put up a season-best 34 in the win over Denver while Jalen Brunson has lived up to his nine-figure deal with sterling final frames. 

Head coach Tom Thibodeau, perhaps making his own set of changes in the wake of the fateful dinner, has switched to a nine-man rotation in the wake of Mitchell Robinson's injury. Though Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims have been strong in subbing for Robinson, the Knicks have showcased some smaller lineups alongside Randle's headlining services. Even with RJ Barrett slumping, Cam Reddish has been a pleasant surprise in the five, as have reserves Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. 

"We were just looking (for a spark)," Thibodeau said of his reliance on small lineups in late sessions. "We thought they were sort of small, so we thought that we could play that, and I thought it would give us energy, and it did. 

(We have) the ability to do some more switching, that sort of thing, and use our athleticism, which we were trying to get."

Alas, not everyone has been able to reap the benefits of victory: two of the most talked-about pieces of the Knicks' offseason have been relegated to spectator duties.

 Evan Fournier and Quentin Grimes had eventful offseasons on the floor: Fournier captained the French national team to a runner-up finish at the EuroBasket Tournament while Grimes was the main attraction in the Knicks' lucrative Summer League affairs in Las Vegas. 

Each was expected to be a big part of this latest chapter of the Knicks' seemingly eternal rebuild: Grimes was entering his sophomore season after entering as a first-round choice last year while Fournier reassumed his starting five duties at shooting guard. Through different circumstances and issues, they can only watch as the team tries to get some positive momentum going. 

Grimes' de facto exile is more a case of bad luck: a foot injury sidelined him for most of training camp and limited him to a preseason cameo. Thibodeau has constantly referred to Grimes' prospects as "situational," but those supposed situations have been hard to come by. Grimes has partaken in five games this season, exceeding 10 minutes only once, when he originally took over Fournier's starting spot in a Nov. 4 win in Philadelphia. 

The Houston alum's benching seems even more bizarre when the Knicks appeared to do their utmost to keep him away from the ultimately futile Donovan Mitchell discussions. Injuries, of course, must be accounted for, but Grimes has been nailed to the bench in each of the last two triumphs. 

It's gotten to the point where Thibodeau has been asked if the Knicks would consider sending Grimes down to the Westchester-based G League team, but that notion was almost immediately dismissed.

"I think him being here with us is the best thing right now," Thibodeau said. 

“It’s tough, just coming in off the summer, everything that was going on. I had high expectations for myself as well," Grimes said. "(Right now I'm) just trying to be supportive. I know that (Thibodeau) is trying to do what he feels is the best for the team so we can go out there and win games.”

Fournier's case is a bit more difficult. While likewise included in many a hypothetical trade discussion, his fall from relative grace has been somewhat alarming. The Knicks' newly-minted single-season leader in successful three-pointers began the year as the starting shooting guard but that duty has since passed on to Reddish, who has made a case to stay there with strong defensive performances and improved shooting. 

Since his removal from the starting five, he has averaged under 15 minutes a game, is shooting 19 percent from his supposed three-point wheelhouse, and, like Grimes, has been held out of the last two games entirely. 

While the Knicks will have the G League card in their pocket to play with Grimes, Fournier's situation is further complicated by his contract: he's in only the second year of a four-season, $73 million deal, one that makes Westchester relegation ludicrous and a straight-up trade even more unlikely. The most realistic way to unload his contract, should the Knicks desire to do so, would probably be to attach one of the first-round selections gained in the question for Mitchell to it as this winter's trade deadline looms. 

As he tries to stay ready, Fournier refuses to fault Thibodeau for attempting to find a victorious solution ... even if it's costing him minutes, a situation has fully admitted to being "not easy." 

"I don’t think he made that decision because he (doesn’t) like me or anything like it’s a personal thing," Fournier said. "He just wants to win, man. He does whatever he thinks is best. I can argue whether that’s good or not.”

"If I’m thinking about staying on the bench for the rest of the season it’s going to be awful. Mindset is always the same. Do your work every day and live (with) the result.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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