Yes, ask any NBA player on a team outside of the Bobcats and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: “I’m going out there like we’re gonna win the whole thing.” You have to. But for the Knicks, now that they’ve won six in a row, have the NBA’s newest sensation and all the momentum, a deep playoff run could be feasible once again. Renaldo Balkman hasn’t had as big of an impact on his return to New York as he would’ve liked, but he says he’s stayed ready to play regardless.
On the year, the former Knick, who was traded away and then brought back home again to the Big Apple, is averaging 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds for the 14-15 Knicks. But he’s used to this role: come in off the bench to give energy and defense.
I caught up with Balkman recently during the height of Linsanity to talk of course, Lin, but also his favorite spots to eat in NYC, what makes every player go harder in the Big Apple and also what’s in store for the Knicks the rest of the way.
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Dime: What was wrong with the Knicks to start the season?
Renaldo Balkman: It’s a lockout you know? Normally you start off the season preparing yourself to play basketball. But our time to prepare was short. Training camp was short. We had to mesh together quick. You started off slow, picked it up… But it’s all about meshing together. It took like eight, nine games to get all them kinks out.
When you start like that you never know what happens.
Dime: Is chemistry the only thing that’s gotta come together or are their specific things the team has to do a better job at?
RB: Not really. What I mean by that is it’s basketball. You never know what happens. A guy can go for 50 one night, 40 or 30, and then the next night get 20. You never know, on any given night.
We play so many games. If you go on a 15-game losing streak, but you win 10 more, you can be right back where you wanna be at. In the East, you can win 25, 26, 30 games and you’re in the playoffs. That’s what you’re playing for: The playoffs. When you get to the playoffs, it’s a different season.
Dime: Has your preparation/schedule been different with the condensed season?
RB: Our whole team is a little bit off, but I mean I’m going to gel, work hard, practice. I’m just waiting for that chance to get back on that court. Everybody knows I’m a hard worker, and I gotta stay ready. Every time they call my name, I gotta be ready. Yeah, that whole team is a little bit off though, but I’m working on it. It’s hard to come back… it’s hard to play one game and sit 20 and play another. But you gotta go in and give it your all you know what I mean?
Dime: Is there anything in particular you do to stay ready?
RB: We play almost every other day or every day. I still have to go to the gym, work out, life weights, do all the things I have to do because if I didn’t y’all would hear about it. I’d be getting fined or whatever. I still work hard. I still condition because you never know. I go back to what I said about scoring points: it’s the minutes. I don’t get no minutes. I don’t play. The one night he might throw me in the game for 30 minutes. I have to be ready. I’ve conditioned myself to stay in shape, stay fit so when he do call my name I can get it done to the best of my ability.
Dime: Are you surprised by Jeremy Lin?
RB: Ahhh. Man, I mean he’s a ballplayer. He’s a professional athlete. People aren’t surprised because you gotta think, we’re playing at the highest level of basketball. Yeah he didn’t get no minutes. He hasn’t been playing. But now he’s averaging 25 a game. That’s great. He’s doing well for the job. More power to him. But people gotta remember, we’re still pros. It’s like he comes off the bench and gives somebody 25 points, or play 25 minutes. That’s what we do. We get paid to be the best players in the world.
Dime: With Carmelo, he’s taken some criticism this year. How do you think he’s played? You’ve played with him for a while. Anything different about this year?
RB: Nah. Like I said, the only difference about this year is all of the games. It’s not just him. It’s a lot of other guys in the NBA too who are getting hurt, the little things that sit in the back. ‘Melo has a mind frame of winning. Every time he steps on the court, he wants to win. He likes to play hard. That’s the mentality with him and the team. He gets the team ready to go every night. I feel like he’s alright. But we’re in New York City. You’re going to get a lot of criticism about “Oh, we’re not winning no games. They gotta blame it on somebody.” But when we start winning games, everybody is gonna be on our back. It’s give and take. You gotta deal with it. But when we win, it’s gonna be all positive again.
Dime: Do you guys have different roles than when you were with the Nuggets?
RB: No. I feel like I just changed to a different name on my jersey. Same old. Play hard when your number is called or your name, go out there and play like it’s your last game.
Be the best athlete on the court. That’s what he is at times.
Dime: What type of stuff do you get into away from basketball?
RB: Ah man. I’m a homebody. I usually stay home and play video games a lot. I don’t really hang out like that or be out all the time. I like sitting and playing war games or NBA basketball, 2K, or football. That’s about it on my off time.
Dime: Are you talking Call of Duty?
RB: Yeah. Call of Duty. All of those games, I sit there and play ’em online.
Dime: You’ve been traded a few times. Everyone has different experiences with that. What was it like for you being traded from New York and then coming back?
RB: Aw man. I went from a big city, the big lights to Denver where all the lights come off at nine o’clock or eight o’clock. You can’t even get dinner after eight, you know what I mean?
Then I came back to the city of lights again. But I got a little more older, a little bit more mature. I’m glad I’m back in New York, I’ll tell you that much.
Dime: When you get traded, how do you actually learn about it?
RB: That’s my agent. The team probably wants something on their team that’s better. You never want to make your team worse. When you get traded, it’s for the better. You get thrown in a trade â€“ or maybe you need a big man in the trade â€“ you always want to make your team better. I feel like the Knicks, they wanted to get better. They got ‘Melo. We had Chauncey, me and Anthony Carter. We got better. We went to the playoffs last year.
The Nuggets, they got better too. They got Gallinari and the big guy in the middle. They got better too.
Dime: You mentioned you’re happy to be back in New York. Was that your first reaction when you heard the news?
RB: My first reaction was like “I’m back in the City. I’m back in the City. I’m back in the City.” Like I said, when I was out here the first time, I was young. I was hanging out a little bit. I’m a little older now. Now, I sit around and play the video games.
But I was happy to be back in the City man. It’s the Big Apple. It’s the Mecca of basketball. If they don’t know by now, New York basketball is the place to be. It’s what to do. Everybody loves basketball. Everybody knows you wherever you go. Basketball. Basketball. Basketball. It’s so crazy to be back in New York City.
Dime: You said you don’t go out too much, but what are your go-to restaurants in NYC?
RB: I’ve been to a place called Lavo. It’s Italian cuisine. A place called Tao. Del Frisco’s is a steak place I love.
Dime: Do you have a preference for your favorite type of food.
RB: A steak. Yeah, I gotta have me a nice little steak.
Dime: When opposing players come in, does everyone pick up their games. Like you said, it’s the Mecca of basketball. Do players really step it up?
RB: Yeah. Every night. Every night. When guys come to New York… When you turn the lights on in the Garden, it’s the best place to be, the best place to play basketball. The opposing team comes in and they try to give it all they got. The Garden has some of the best music, the boxing. It’s a historical building so to go in there just to play basketball is a great feeling. Every time we play an opposing team, they go in there with a fight saying, “I played well in Madison Square Garden.” Who can say that, you know what I mean?
Dime: Compared to Denver, do you think teams actually play a little harder when they come to New York City?
RB: I feel like they do. You never know who’s gonna be at the game. You never know who’s watching. In New York, you might have 10 stars or 30 stars sitting on the front row that you’ve never seen before, and you can go over there and say “What’s going on?” and shake their hand. You go to Cleveland or somewhere else, you’re not gonna see that many people. Like Miami, you go to Miami and see all these rappers just on the sideline. When you go to Miami, you’re trying to play hard, like it’s time to go. That’s what we do. When the lights come on, we gotta play ball.
Dime: As far as the Knicks, how deep in the playoffs are you guys looking to go?
RB: How deep? Man, I dunno how deep. I expect us to win. You can’t go on there short-holing yourself saving “Oh, we’ll win the first round.” You’ll never win. You gotta go in there like “Here’s what we gonna do. We gonna win this whole thing.” Like I said, our record right now might not show, but our mentality is going in there saying we gotta make the playoffs. As soon as we make it to the playoffs, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s 0-0, and we gotta go for that goal, and I feel like we gonna win the championship.
What kind of potential do the Knicks have this year?
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