The summertime additions of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier to form a new starting backcourt for the Knicks did not deter the mutual interest in the return of veteran guard Alec Burks.
Burks was among those rewarded for playing an integral role in last season’s resurgence by the Knicks with a three-year contract worth $30 million in early August, and he’s expected to be a key member of Tom Thibodeau’s second unit again in 2021-22.
“At the end of the day, I feel like I wanted to be here,” Burks said after practice Thursday in Tarrytown. “I feel like the future was bright and feel like I wanted to continue playing for Thibs and playing with the same group of teammates we had.
“I feel like we have a great chance to be great again, so I just wanted to run it back. … I’m glad we got another chance and I’m back so I can help out and hopefully we can right our wrongs.”
Thibodeau immediately appreciated the versatility and value Burks provided in helping the Knicks reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The second-year coach said bringing back the 11-year NBA veteran guard was “huge,” along with the multiyear signings of Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel and Taj Gibson to complement centerpieces Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
“[Burks] had a great year, terrific teammate, veteran leadership and then his skill level,” Thibodeau said. “We were in desperate need of shooting, so he provided shot-making, play-making. He can go off the dribble, can play three positions, and he can function as a starter or a guy off the bench.
“As soon as you put him in the game, he’s ready to go. He doesn’t need five minutes to warm up, so that brought great value to our bench.”
The 30-year-old Burks finished his first season in New York with 12.7 points per game and shot 41.5 percent from 3-point distance in 49 games (five starts).
Thibodeau said the Knicks’ bench — with Burks, Rose and second-year guard Immanuel Quickley all featured prominently — was “one of our strengths” in 2020-21.
“It’s great because we played together last year, played in the playoffs and everybody came back. It’s great chemistry,” Burks said. “We all play off each other very well and we’re all talented basketball players and smart at the same time, so we can feed off each other.
“I think chemistry lacks in the league because players move around so much. I think it’s a big thing when you get on the court. If you have it off the court, then on the court, it shows. I think it showed with our group because we all came back this year.”
Burks, who has played for six teams entering his 11th NBA season, said such continuity with the roster shows the front office “believes in us as players and human beings.”
Burks added he expects the addition of Walker, who he referred to as “an All-NBA player and a great person” off the court, is “going to take us to another level” following a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last season. Burks also stressed he has no “bitter feelings” over the Knicks’ first-round playoff loss to Atlanta.
“Nah, it happened. This is my opinion. It happened. And it can’t happen again,” Burks said. “It’s over with and move forward with life. And hopefully it doesn’t happen this season.
“Just learn what we didn’t do right last year. I know we were fourth and we had a great year, and if we just learn from the mistakes we made, we can be better on both sides of the ball. I think if we do that, we can take a leap.”