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Kemba Walker Opened Up About Getting Benched: ‘It’s Tough…But I’m A Team Guy First’

The New York Knicks are searching for answers right now, as Tom Thibodeau tinkers with lineups and rotations in an effort to recapture the magic of last season as the team has sputtered to an 11-12 start, good for 11th in the crowded East just over a quarter of the way through the season.

One of the latest changes to the Knicks rotation was the removal of veteran Kemba Walker from not just the starting lineup, but the rotation as a whole, inserting Alec Burks and providing more opportunity for second-year guard Immanuel Quickley. Walker has sat out the last four games, during which time the Knicks have gone 1-3, albeit against tough competition with losses to the Nets, Bulls, and Nuggets.

Walker’s stat line was fine (11.7 points and 3.1 assists per game on 42.9/41.3/80 shooting splits), but the defensive end of the floor had become a nightmare for the Knicks when Walker was on the court. Given Thibs’ constant focus is on defense, and it wasn’t as though the offense was humming with Walker running things, it wasn’t a huge surprise that Walker would fall out of favor. Still, there was such excitement for his return to New York, a player looking to re-establish himself in the league after being dealt to OKC and bought out by the rebuilding Thunder, that it would be easy to understand if he was bitter about the quick hook.

Instead, Walker is trying to take it all in stride and, at least publicly, is saying all the right things. Kemba spoke to the media on Monday about his weeklong absence from the rotation and said that it’s been tough for all the reasons you’d expect, but noted that he’s always about doing what’s right for the team and will keep working and supporting the guys on the court.

It’s not a surprise that Walker is taking this approach, as he’s long been beloved in whatever locker room he’s in. Hopefully he can get healthy and find some of that magic from earlier in his career to work his way back into the rotation and help the Knicks turn things back around this season, but until then, it seems he’ll provide vocal support and leadership from the bench.