Kemba Walker gives Knicks chance to survive Derrick Rose injury

MINNEAPOLIS – The Knicks have all their key pieces back from COVID-19 but they still won’t get Derrick Rose until mid-to-late February. 

And Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who regards Rose as his favorite player, doesn’t sound too concerned about the surgery done to clean out the point guard’s ankle area. 

That’s how much he likes their guard depth.

After the Tuesday win in Minnesota, Thibodeau left it up in the air whether Kemba Walker would play in Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back. However, Walker was left off the 1:30 p.m injury report Wednesday, so it looks like he’s a go. 

The forever rebuilding Pistons, who enter the Knicks game Wednesday at a league-worst 5-27, shipped out Rose for Dennis Smith Jr. and a future second-round pick to the Knicks in February. The veteran was was a key ingredient in the Knicks’ turnaround. The Pistons didn’t re-sign Smith after last season and he’s now on the Blazers.

Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker on Oct. 5, 2021.
NBAE via Getty Images

Across the season, Thibodeau made mention of Rose’s ankle as a persistent issue. But nobody ever realized the severity. The news of surgery stirs to memory the playoff series against the Hawks last spring. In Game 4 in Atlanta, Rose limped out of the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and appeared less than mobile in the series-ending Game 5.

The Knicks still re-signed Rose to a three-year, $43 million deal, though the final year is non-guaranteed. In his first comments on Rose’s surgery, Thibodeau said Tuesday he’s chatted on occasion with Rose since the announcement nearly two weeks ago.

“You never want to see a player get injured but it’s a part of the game,” Thibodeau said. “And so you support him as much as you can. So his teammates will support him, the organization will support him, he’s been through a number of things.

“Most players who’ve played as long as he has has gone through similar things. And I think he understands what he has to go through. I’m confident that he’ll be able to bounce back.’’

Walker is on a hot streak since returning to the Knicks lineup.
Walker is on a hot streak since returning to the Knicks lineup.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

After the Knicks’ second straight win moved them to 16-18, Thibodeau sounded optimistic about the Rose-free roster. Only Nerlens Noel, Jericho Sims and Wayne Selden remain in COVID-19 protocols. 

“Health is always first for all our players,” Thibodeau added of Rose. “When there’s an issue you’d like to address it. We have great faith in our medical people. We come up with a plan. And you get back when you’re ready. And the one thing we like about our team is the depth we have.

“We’re really excited about our young players. This is an opportunity for them to learn and grow. Our vets are starting to build chemistry and the way Kemba is playing and Evan (Fournier) is  starting to get a rhythm and Mitch (Robinson) is starting to get his legs under him now. That’s a big plus.”

The last time Walker took a load-management day on the second night of a back-to-back — Nov. 27 in Atlanta — Thibodeau inserted Alec Burks as starting point guard.
The coach liked the extra size at that position so much, he stuck with it and demoted Walker from the rotation.

Miles McBride is out of the COVID protocols.
Miles McBride is out of the COVID protocols.
AP

Walker won’t give Thibodeau that chance again, apparently. In a stark turnabout, Walker, after not playing a minute for nine straight games, is back as starter now – mostly because Rose could be out eight weeks.

Walker played 33 minutes in Minnesota. In the five games since he’s returned from Thibodeau prison, the Bronx legend has logged 38.8 minutes a game – which might be too much for his arthritic left knee.

Last season, Walker didn’t play any back-to-backs for the Celtics. But Walker, who did not speak to reporters after the Timberwolves game, appears willing to try it. 

With Rose laid up, if Walker takes a load-management game in the future Thibodeau has three options. Rookie point guard Miles McBride excelled in two games before entering COVID-19 protocols. Immanuel Quickley also looked good as backup point guard in Minnesota in his COVID-19 return. He could also give Burks another run.

Showing supreme quarterback skills and zealous defense, McBride played the entire second half nearly two weeks ago in Houston before testing positive. McBride was cleared Tuesday but didn’t get action in Minnesota.

“We’ll talk to him and see where he’s at, how he’s feeling,” Thibodeau said of Walker in Minnesota before boarding a flight for Detroit late Tuesday. “So if he can go he will, and if he can’t I feel good about the guys we have. We have Miles back, we have Quick, we have Alec. So obviously we’d like to have Kemba. But we want to be smart too.”