Knicks want to hang onto ‘unsung hero’ Reggie Bullock
LOS ANGELES — It’s been the perfect match. Reggie Bullock has meshed with Tom Thibodeau’s grinding coaching style. Bullock has fit in spectacularlywell with Julius Randle as a stirring offensive tandem.
Thibodeau and Randle will certainly be here next season. What about Bullock?
Some things will have to transpire, but it sounds as if Thibodeau wants him back. He called Bullock the team’s “unsung hero’’ after the Knicks’ giant win at Staples Center over the Clippers on Sunday.
Knicks president Leon Rose exercised the $4.2 million option on Bullock in the offseason and he has been worth every dime as a prototypical “3-and-D’’ player. He was shooting a team-leading 40.9 percent from 3-point land while defending the opponent’s best wing player. That would’ve been the Lakers’ LeBron James had he not opted out of returning Tuesday against the Knicks.
The Knicks will hold Bullock’s Early Bird rights this summer when he’s a free agent, which is huge. That means the Knicks can fill in their $60 million of cap space and go over the cap if they choose to re-sign Bullock to a four-year deal. To keep his rights, the Knicks would only have to use a $5 million cap hold.
League sources believe Bullock’s market value has risen to a full mid-level exception offer of $9.25 million, but there are about five teams that will be under the cap who can offer more.
As the starting shooting guard on a potential top-four Eastern Conference playoff team, Bullock, 30, should be coveted, even if he’s averaging just 10.9 points.
According to sources, Bullock would prefer to stay because of Thibodeau and a bond with general manager Scott Perry. He also sees New York as an important stage to continue his work promoting transgender issues. Bullock, whose transgender sister, Mia, was murdered in 2014, has appeared at multiple LGBT functions and New York’s Gay Pride Parade.
Last season turned into a second nightmare for Bullock, who was rehabbing from spinal fusion surgery and lost his other sister, Keoisha, who was murdered in Baltimore.
Bullock made his Knicks debut in January 2020 and showed enough “3-and-D’’ skills before the NBA season was halted on March 11 for Thibodeau to recommend the Knicks exercise his team option. And Thibodeau fell in love more — entrenching him as the starting shooting guard from the preseason opener.
“It means a lot to have that faith from your head coach, give you such a title like that,’’ Bullock said of the “unsung hero’’ remark following the Knicks’ morning shootaround Tuesday. “[I] try to go into every game and do what my team needs me, knock down shots, defend, just do whatever the coach needs me to do. It’s been working out for me so far and I’m enjoying the whole thing.’’
Not everybody can play for Thibodeau. Bullock, though, can play for Thibodeau.
“Thibs is a tough, hard-nosed coach,’’ Bullock said. “I love it. I get giggles out of it to know that I have a head coach, he has that faith and will back his players up. You know he gives us that leash to play tough and play physical and represent this team and organization the right way. We go out with our hard hats and do that.’’
As of last week, Randle had assisted on 60 percent of Bullock’s catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts.
“It’s more just feel,’’ Bullock said. “Obviously it’s a good two-man game that we have. I just try to find space. And he’s great with his passing abilities that he has. I just try to be in the right position at the right time. It’s been working out for us but he might get me involved, I might get involved. I’m his partner while he’s out there so I just try to come in every game and try to do what I can do to make things easier for him.’’
Earlier this season, when he was asked about facing the Nets’ Big 3, Bullock coined the phrase of the Knicks having a “Big 15.’’ They were 38-30 entering Tuesday as the NBA’s surprise team. Big 15 indeed.
“It’s just our focus and the way we’re on the court with each other and off the court with each other,’’ Bullock said. “Everyone knows their role and tries to do it every night to perform well for the organization. It’s been working out well for us. Everyone is having fun with the whole process too.’’
Beating the Lakers would have moved the Knicks to 4-2 on this Western trip and clinched their first playoff berth since 2013.
“It’s going to mean a lot to us,’’ Bullock said. “We came on this trip, everyone was saying things about how tough this trip is. But we came in with a lot of focus to get wins. We lost two in a row that we learned and we grew from.
“We got a great leader in Julius and Coach. We had big goals in the beginning of the season a lot of people didn’t have for us.”