Elfrid Payton Sr. didn’t have any issues that his son was pulled from the starting lineup for Derrick Rose for Game 3 of the Knicks’ first-round series loss to Atlanta.
But when Tom Thibodeau’s experiment backfired, Payton Sr., who played outside linebacker for Grambling under the legendary Eddie Robinson and was a star in the Canadian Football League, was left scratching his head after his son never played another minute.
With Payton sitting out the final three games, the Knicks were blown out in each game — by a total of 42 points — and Rose broke down at the end.
“I would’ve liked to see him play based on him playing the whole year,” Payton Sr. told The Post. “That’s the only thing I had about it. I was surprised they didn’t try to put him back in and see. I’m not saying it didn’t go well because he wasn’t in there. But they didn’t try to go back to him even in a reserve role.”
The Paytons live in New Orleans, and Payton Sr. attended the games in Atlanta. Payton’s mother, Danielle, was in New York, but she was little more cutting on Twitter than Payton Sr. was to The Post. Danielle posted a photo of the new Knicks starting lineup late in the Game 3 loss with the comment: “How that worked out for you! #ProudMama.”
After the snubs, it appears clear the Knicks are ready to move on from Payton, who has been the starting point guard the past two seasons. He is a free agent and scouts believe he would be best served at age 27 as being a backup on a good team.
The Knicks haven’t made Thibodeau, players or president Leon Rose available to the media since the night the season ended. With reporters not allowed in the locker room with access strictly on team-controlled Zoom calls, Payton hadn’t talked to reporters since before the Atlanta series began.
“His spirits are fine,” Payton Sr. said. “He wish he could’ve a played a little more. He wished he could’ve contributed more in the playoffs. It was the first time he was in the playoffs since being drafted and he was one of the reasons.”
All season, Thibodeau had stuck by Payton’s side despite social media furor that Payton should come out of the starting lineup. There was an outcry when rookie Immanuel Quickley blossomed, then when Rose got to town. Thibodeau defended Payton’s ability to organize the offense and praised his defensive physicality.
Perhaps the negativity finally got to Payton’s psyche. He was weaving a respectable season until the final few weeks when he crashed and his minutes were steadily reduced.
Payton lost his mojo but still wound up averaging 10.4 points, 3.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds.
However, in the final eight regular-season games, Payton averaged just 15 minutes. He often played the game’s first seven minutes and wouldn’t return until the start of the second half. He attacked less and his body language appeared to indicate a half-hearted effort.
“It was more about the minutes and how he was being played that had a big bearing,’’ Payton Sr. said. “It was tough to do anything with those minutes. What’s he going to do with 12 minutes? He comes out after five minutes then he’s not back until the third quarter.”
Payton Sr. emphasized he was in favor of Rose starting but feels his son could’ve helped the Rose-decimated second unit. In all three blowout losses, Thibodeau stuck with Alec Burks and Quickley — neither a playmaker — as the backcourt bench tandem.
If not his son, Payton Sr. said he thought defensive specialist Frank Ntilikina could have gotten a crack in stopping Hawks point guard Trae Young.
“The second unit didn’t have a quarterback,’’ Payton Sr.said. “Elfrid’s a true point guard and he could’ve given it to the shooters like Alec and Immanuel.’’
The father said he has no clue about his son’s future, but point guard is the major issue for the Knicks entering the offseason. After passing on point guard Tyrese Haliburton in the 2020 draft, Leon Rose will have to address the situation in either late July’s draft or free agency, which begins Aug. 1, with plenty of potential targets.
Derrick Rose could return in a backup role, but there’s renewed concerns about his knee after averaging 39 minutes in the first three playoff games.
According to a source, Rose limped off the court with 7:30 left in Game 4. Rose wasn’t on the injury report, but didn’t look the same in Game 5, sat out the fourth quarter and admitted afterward his knee “just didn’t feel right.’’
The Knicks have not given an injury update on Rose and it’s unknown whether he had an MRI. Rose’s first stint as a Knick in 2016 ended with a torn meniscus that required surgery.
With the only point guard under contract being newly signed Spanish leaguer Luca Vildoza, the Knicks face a lot of decisions and options. If No. 1 choice Damian Lillard stays in Portland, the Knicks can go the free-agent route with Chris Paul, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Schroder, Kyle Lowry or Spencer Dinwiddie, or they could seek a trade for Boston’s Kemba Walker.
One thing though, seems certain: The Payton Era assuredly is over.