In terms of handling adversity, playing for the Knicks is like dog years.
And Frank Ntilikina got the full treatment of MSG experience — four coaches in four years, three different lead executives, roster turnover, media attention and trade rumors every couple of months.
No longer the wide-eyed teenager drafted eighth overall by Phil Jackson, Ntilikina told the Daily News that his Knicks tenure was a great lesson in maturity.
“A lot of stuff to figure out off the court. A lot of responsibilities,” Ntilikina, now a backup guard with the Mavericks, said. “And all those things. But once you take it all in and figure out what you’re going through, you become different. You receive things different. You see things different. You handle things different. And it’s to the better. So definitely I’ll say that I handle things better and I’m a much better man, a much version of myself than I was when I was 18.”
Ntilikina didn’t want to detail what he would’ve handled differently — “I can’t go back to the past” — but one decision he already reversed was changing agents midway through his second season. At the time, the Daily News reported that the reason for the switch was about Ntilikina being frustrated because he wasn’t traded. Then after he left the Knicks, Ntilikina was back with his original agent, Olivier Mazet.
On the court, Ntilikina, 24, is similar to what fans remember. He’s a defensive specialist and playing sparingly with the Mavericks after returning from an ankle injury. His highlight was during last season’s playoffs when he helped lock down Chris Paul and Devin Booker in a series win over the Suns.
It pushed the Mavericks to guarantee Ntilikina’s salary for this season, and now he’s behind multiple guards in the rotation, including two of his former Knicks teammates — Tim Hardaway Jr. and Reggie Bullock.
It’s not the career Phil Jackson envisioned for his final lottery pick, but there’s less expectations and the Knicks’ experience has left the Frenchman at ease with whatever he’s dealt.
“Of course, it wasn’t the smoothest experience. Especially my four years and how many different presidents and coaches, and all of that brought something different to the table,” Ntilikina said. “But I’d say my experience that I went through in my first four years, it was not really smooth. And it was not what a rookie would like to go through. But it’s what happened. And it taught me a lot.”