Pay cut or not, Knicks starting point guard Elfrid Payton is still motivated to compete in the first playoff game of his career.
He’s played six seasons with four different franchises but the Louisiana native has never reached the postseason.
Payton put together another solid game with 22 points, making 10 of 15 shots, and dishing out eight assists.
“Very important,’’ Payton said when asked about his playoff aspirations. “It’s a goal to get in every year. We have a good chance this year. It’s still early. That’s the goal and we work for it every day.’’
Few believed Payton would be back as a Knick, especially after the team declined his team option of $8 million in November and waived him.
Nevertheless, Knicks president Leon Rose struck out on a few point guard targets, including Fred VanVleet, and Payton was re-signed on a one-year, $4.7 million deal.
He’s outperformed that contract figure, averaging 14 points, 4.7 assists and 4.6 rebounds. Most notably, he’s been effective from 3-point range entering Wednesday’s game at 42.9 percent.
Originally, the Knicks thought Payton’s money would serve as the cap-room exception figure. However, they fell $18 million short of the salary cap. Hence the salary just counts against the cap. The Knicks could have afforded to exercise his team option as it was.
Asked how he’s handled getting waived and still coming back for a lot less, Payton said, “Uh, I’d rather not comment on that, honestly.
“I’m always trying to prove myself. I don’t want you to think …” Payton stopped himself, laughed and continued. “I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m always trying to prove myself. I think it’s the best thing to happen so far through the grace of God that I’ve been healthy to start the season. That’s the biggest thing.”
Indeed, Payton, after a solid opener last season, injured his hamstring and missed 21 games. By the time he returned, coach David Fizdale was about to be fired after a 4-18 start.
Tom Thibodeau announced after the game rookie forward Obi Toppin (calf strain) was reevaluated and has been cleared for “running and jumping’’ and will soon go through contact. He worked out on the court before the game.
Thibodeau said “patience’’ still is needed because Toppin hasn’t played since the season opener.
The Knicks got bad news regarding shooting guard Alec Burks. Off to a hot start, Burks was expected back on this homestand but the club said he’d be instead in a walking boot and reevaluated in a week to 10 days.
“There’s still some tenderness there from the sprain so we just felt another week to 10 days to see where he is,’’ Thibodeau said. “But it’s early in the season and we don’t want it to be something that lingers.’’
Before the game, Thibodeau was asked if he had addressed the club regarding the rioters’ storming of the Capitol in Washington to support President Donald Trump’s bid to overturn the election. Thibodeau indicated he would talk to the team Thursday.
“It’s shocking, disappointing and I haven’t had an opportunity to speak to the team yet because it happened late after we had broken from the shootaround this morning,’’ Thibodeau said. “As Americans you want everyone to be safe.We can debate things and do all that, but I think once there’s violence involved it’s not good for anybody.’’