Courtney Lee, the $50 million signing, was supplanted in the lineup by an undrafted rookie.
In an effort to jolt the struggling lineup and find, to steal Jeff Hornacek’s comparison, this team’s version of Kurt Rambis, the Knicks went with Ron Baker at shooting guard for Monday’s matinee against the Hawks.
Hornacek implied that a search for grit was behind the decision, or similar intangibles that Rambis brought the Lakers of the 1980s.
“You’re looking for little things. Who is going to do the little things on this team? Who is going to take charges? Who is going to make the extra pass? Who is going to make sure defensively that this guy gets stopped or that guy gets stopped?” Hornacek said. “Who is going to help the help position more often than not? All of the guys contribute in different ways, but who is going to be the guy who elevates the other guys? Who is going to be the guy that does the little things you don’t see in the box score. I always talk about Kurt Rambis — that type of player. You look at when he played on those Lakers, his stats probably weren’t that great. But he was always in the right spot. Defensively, he was always right there and it eliminates a lot of things. So who is going to be that guy for us?”
Baker, 23, had played only 16 games this season prior to Monday, averaging 10.1 minutes and 3.4 points. In November and December, he logged 22 DNPs and was frequently on the inactive list. But after helping the Knicks complete a fourth-quarter comeback on Jan. 6 in Milwaukee, he was given a larger role in the rotation.
Lithuanian Mindaugas Kuzminskas also made his first start of the season Monday, replacing two injured forwards — Kristaps Porzingis and Lance Thomas. Carmelo Anthony moved to power forward.
Porzingis missed his third straight game — and sixth overall — because of a sore Achilles. Thomas fractured his orbital bone in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Raptors.
“Maybe lineup changes, just to see a different combination of guys out there. Sometimes it’s just one guy who can spur a certain group with what they do,” Hornacek said. “I’ve always believed that taking charges is a big motivator. We don’t take enough of them. We take the occasional one here or there, but I’d like for our guys to take more charges.”
Lee, 31, who signed his big contract over the summer, came into Monday averaging 9.7 points and 30.7 minutes. He was also among the league’s best in 3-point shooting at 43 percent, but has been dealing with a sprained shooting wrist and struggled this month.
Last season, the Knicks similarly supplanted Arron Afflalo in the lineup for Sasha Vujacic. The move did not translate to success on the court and it set off a public feud between Afflalo and Rambis, who was the interim coach at the time.
“We’d obviously (talk) to (Lee) and explain why he did it, and say, ‘We did it. It’s not your fault. We’re not blaming you. We just want to do a different mix and see if it changes both sides,’” Hornacek said. “The group that’s out there and maybe the group that’s off the bench. So I think guys would be receptive to it if they understood the reason.”