NEW YORK — Center Enes Kanter kissed the Knicks logo on the Madison Square Garden court when he checked into Wednesday night’s game, a gesture he later said was done to thank fans for their support during his recent benching.
“I just wanted to show my love,” said Kanter, who hadn’t played in the Knicks’ previous four games. “Obviously, on the court and off the court I’ve been having a very rough time the last three weeks with Turkey issues and basketball issues. The support that they are showing just meant a lot to me. I wanted to give back a little kiss to them.”
Kanter entered the game midway through the third quarter after a loud contingent of fans chanted, “We want Kanter,” with New York down by double digits.
He waved to the crowd upon entering and air-balled his first attempt.
“It was so much pressure,” Kanter said. “I just wanted to go out there and show the fans some of the love. Of course, I didn’t play how many games, so I was nervous.”
Earlier this month, Knicks coach David Fizdale told Kanter that the team would play young centers Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet ahead of him. Kanter has been vocal about his frustration since the demotion and has alluded to the possibility of being traded or bought out by New York in the near future.
Kanter’s uncertain future was part of the reason he decided to kiss the court Wednesday night.
“I was planning this for a long time. I was just waiting to get back in,” said Kanter, who finished with five points, a pair of rebounds and an assist in 9 minutes of the 114-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. “You never know how long I’m going to play here. I was so happy I got in, just to show the fans some love for maybe, I don’t know, one last time. I have no idea.”
Fizdale said his team’s poor performance — and not the fans’ chants — led him to turn to Kanter.
“That’s a fan’s right to do whatever they want to do . They can chant whatever they’d like to chant. But at the time … we just weren’t playing very good basketball,” Fizdale said. “In all fairness to him, that’s what I told him face-to-face that I’d do. Every chance I get to plug him in there and try to help the team, I’m going to do it. So [Wednesday night] was that opportunity.”
Teams have talked to New York about potential deals for the center ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline, sources said. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported earlier this month that the Sacramento Kings and Knicks talked about a trade involving Kanter and Zach Randolph as a swap of expiring contracts.
New York does not want to take back salary in a trade of Kanter, sources said. If the Knicks can’t find a trade that suits them, the club and Kanter could agree on a buyout, which would allow Kanter to sign with the team of his choice.
Kanter is in the final year of his contract, making $18.6 million this season.
The 26-year-old made it clear again Wednesday that he would prefer to remain with the team if he were in the rotation.
“If they know the love of New York I have in my heart, they would retire my jersey,” Kanter said of the fans. “I have no problem with this organization. I have no problem with these players, teammates, coaches or the city. From Day 1, I’ve loved the city.”
The Knicks (10-40) have lost 11 consecutive games. They last won at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 1 — a streak of 12 straight home games.