Julius Randle heard a fair amount of boos during pregame introductions, but the Knicks’ highest-paid player forcefully denied suggestions that he is seeking a trade in the offseason or that he isn’t committed to the organization long term.
“That’s not true, bro. That’s just not true, simple as that, it’s not true at all,” Randle said Wednesday night. “If it didn’t come from me, it ain’t true.”
Randle scored 21 points with seven assists, but the Knicks couldn’t fully erase a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter as their season-best winning streak was halted at four games in a 125-114 loss to the play-in bound Hornets at the Garden.
The loss dropped the Knicks’ tragic number for elimination from play-in contention to one with five games remaining, after the No. 10 Hawks’ blowout victory in Oklahoma City.
“Just keep concentrating on what we’re doing and get better, and then you’re not eliminated until you’re eliminated,” Tom Thibodeau said. “And then when you are, you assess what you want to get done.”
Randle’s intermittent frustration and unhappiness has been evidenced by various instances this season, including a thumbs-down gesture and profane quotes directed at fans and multiple blowups with officials.
This year has been a far cry from the two-way love affair Randle enjoyed with New York one season ago, when he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and the NBA’s Most Improved Player, earning him a four- year contract extension worth $117 million.
The Post reported Wednesday that there are some around the league who believe that Randle has been acting in a “James Harden type of way,” suggesting that he could attempt to force a trade in the offseason.
Thibodeau was incredulous when asked about a further claim by a local radio host this week — which was couched as an “unconfirmed rumor” — that Randle already had expressed that he wanted out following Monday’s victory over Chicago at the Garden
Asked directly if he believes that Randle “wants to be here,” Thibodeau replied: “Yeah. So as a coach, you coach the players that you have. And you love them all. And I do. If you play for me, I love you. It’s really that simple. The challenge for us is to bring the best out of each other.”
Randle previously had asserted his commitment earlier this season, but he stressed after the game: “My answer ain’t changing, bro.”
“My goal and what I work hard for is to make the city proud and make the fans proud,” he said. “I play for my teammates; I play for my family, and it is as simple as that. It is nothing more than that. From the inside looking out, it is what it is, and I understand that a lot of times you have to do your game, do the talking, but I love this city, my family loves it here and I love being a Knick.”
Randle has been fined over $100,000 by the league this season for various infractions, including for saying “shut the f–k up” in a January press conference to explain his use of a thumbs-down gesture to booing fans at one game at the Garden .
Randle also threw the ball away and walked directly into the locker room following Monday’s win. He scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting in that game, and fans had chanted once again for understudy Obi Toppin.
Randle admitted the boos and chants have been toughest on his 5-year-old son, Kyden, and his family.
“That’s probably where most of my frustration comes from. I have my 5-year-old son that’s there, who is obsessed with the game of basketball, loves the game of basketball and he doesn’t understand what’s going on,” Randle said. “That’s probably my biggest frustration — coming from him.
“But at the same time, you have to understand it comes with the territory. The narrative can always flip. I understand that. I understand it’s New York City. I understand how passionate our fans are. You just kind of have to live with the good and the bad.”
Following the pregame boos, Randle seemingly got the home crowd back on his side by nailing two early 3-pointers, and the Knicks shot 61.9 percent from the floor in trailing 31-29 through one quarter. RJ Barrett finished the first half with 17 points to keep the Knicks within three, 58-55 at intermission
The Knicks trailed by a dozen, 95-83, with 10:31 remaining, but a dunk by Barrett and a converted three-point play by Immanuel Quickley (16 points) pulled them within two with just under six minutes to go. But a windmill slam and a corner 3 by Bridges extended the Charlotte cushion back to 11 in the closing minutes.
“I thought we were a step behind all night, and I thought the ball got where they wanted it to,” Thibodeau said. “We didn’t feel good about the way we were playing defensively all night.”