On Saturday, the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that will send big man Kyle O’Quinn to New York in exchange for cash and a future second-round pick. The three-year NBA veteran has agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks. O’Quinn was born in Jamaica, New York and attended high school in Queens. In the games that O’Quinn started at center for the Magic during the 2014-15 season, he averaged 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and a block.
Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy caught up with O’Quinn to talk about playing for his hometown team, his expectations for next season and what Knicks fans can expect from him.
Basketball Insiders: How did this all progress and where were you when you found out that you’d be heading to your hometown Knicks?
Kyle O’Quinn: “When I heard about their interest, I had just landed in Las Vegas because I train out there at Impact Basketball in the offseason. I had just turned on my phone and my agent had texted me, ‘Call me as soon as you land.’ I prayed really quick, hoped he had good news and I called him. He told me about the framework of the Knicks’ deal and said [the sign-and-trade] would likely happen if everything fell into place. Then, I got off the phone and prayed again. I had plans to go to C.J. Watson’s house, because we’re good friends and I thought he would be my new teammate in Orlando since he just signed with the Magic. Then, when I was headed to his house, that’s when I found out it was basically done. The text messages started rolling in and I knew it was being finalized. When I got to his house, C.J.’s family said, ‘We can’t wait to see you in Orlando! We’re so happy you and C.J. will be teammates!’ Then, I had to break the news to his family.”
Basketball Insiders: Your family lives in New York, so how excited are they about this move?
Kyle O’Quinn: “My parents are super excited. They’re going to be able to go to all of my home games and see me more. My dad is the excited the most, because he likes to be around me a lot and he says this is making up for the years that I was away in college and in Orlando. He thought I’d never come back to New York, but it worked out. My mom, she’s in security mode right now. She’s happy for me, but she’s laying out ground rules. She wants it to be clear to people that this isn’t some big family reunion and that I’m not always going to be accessible. She’s telling me, ‘You aren’t coming home for a family reunion. You have a job to do and you need to work.’ I told her, ‘I know, I know!’”
Basketball Insiders: Did you grow up as a fan of the Knicks?
Kyle O’Quinn: “Oh, of course I grew up a Knicks fan; if you’re from New York, you’ve gotta grow up a Knicks fan. They are always on T.V. and they dominated my T.V. growing up. And whatever the Knicks do – whether they’re doing good or bad – it’s always on the front page of the sports section. It was good entertainment for me when I was a young’un. I wasn’t raised in a crazy basketball family, but the Knicks always had a place in our hearts. The crazy thing is, my first NBA game I ever went to was the Knicks vs. the Magic at Madison Square Garden.”
Basketball Insiders: You’ve never been on a playoff team. The Knicks have made a number of moves this summer. How good can this team be and could this be the year that you make your postseason debut?
Kyle O’Quinn: It’s a great possibility. We have a superstar in Carmelo Anthony, who is proven. We have Robin Lopez. We have Arron Afflalo, who I played with in Orlando. We have guys who have been there before and know what it takes to be successful. Those are the guys you can learn from. That would be great to make my playoff debut. I haven’t even thought that far, that’d be special. And to do it in New York, in front of my Mom and Dad? That would be so great. I want this season to go longer than my first three seasons went. I was watching these last playoffs and saying, ‘Man, I gotta get there. I need a taste of that.’ E’Twaun [Moore] got to taste it this year with the Chicago Bulls and he’s my boy and my former Magic teammate, so I was living vicariously through him. He wasn’t even playing that much, but I was calling him every day like, ‘E’Twaun, what’s it like? How does it feel?’ I used to do the same thing in college, during my first few years when I didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. I lived vicariously through my friends who made it. Then, I finally got to experience it myself and it was just so amazing. I think that’s how it’s going to be for me when I finally get to be in the playoffs.”
Basketball Insiders: Do you have any idea what role you’re going to have on the Knicks? Have you talked to Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher about that yet?
Kyle O’Quinn: “I think I’ll have a solid back-up role at first and then I’ll just work from there. I’m approaching it like I’m coming in as a rookie and have to work hard and prove myself. I do think that back-up big man role is pretty open and I want to capitalize on that. I talked to Arron the other day when he heard the deal was going to go down and he told me, ‘This is an opportunity to play and get a more significant role. The team wasn’t that successful last year so it’s not like certain guys have to start.’ I honestly don’t know my exact role, I’ll give you a better answer when I get there, but I’m going in ready to do whatever I can to get on the court and contribute. I’m coming in ready and I’m handling my business so that I can fill any role asked of me.”
Basketball Insiders: For the New York fans who don’t know much about you and haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your game and what will you bring to the team?
Kyle O’Quinn: “On the court, I bring my competitiveness, my motor, my hard work and my will to win. In the NBA, it’s a funny league. It’s not like college where every kid is dying to win. That’s how I was in college; I was dying to win every single game. That’s always been in me, a desire to just win, win, win. That’s the only way I’m satisfied – when we’re winning. When things are going wrong, I’m determined to turn things around and get the team back to winning, rather than just saying, ‘Oh well, now that’s let’s focus on getting a high draft pick.’ That’s not my type of basketball. They’re going to get someone obsessed with winning.
Off the court, I’m just going to try to develop as much as possible – I just want to continue to grow as a player. And, of course, I want to be the best teammate I can be. I know I can learn a lot from the guys in New York. Coach Derek Fisher played so many years in the league, and I know he’s a player’s coach. I learned a lot from [former Magic head coach] Jacque Vaughn and I’m sure Derek Fisher has a lot of knowledge to share with me as well, so it’ll be good to play for another coach who played the game. I can’t wait to learn from him.”
Basketball Insiders: What was it like to have Phil Jackson show interest in you? How much of an honor is that?
Kyle O’Quinn: “Oh man, that felt good. (laughs) At first, I was like, ‘Damn, this is Phil Jackson!’ Then, once it sunk in, I started to think about what’s next. I didn’t want that to be our only conversation, you know? I was hoping it wasn’t a one-time thing. I can’t wait to be around him with the Knicks.”
Basketball Insiders: What aspects of your game are you working on this offseason as you train at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas?
Kyle O’Quinn: “I’m working on the same things I always do. I’m trying to expand my game, learn from my mistakes last year and focus on little things like screen-setting, rolling out of screens faster, picking my spots on the pop shot. Of course, I’m working on my jump-shot, some go-to moves in the post, my conditioning and body, things like that. The biggest thing for me is sharpening up the things that I do well. I do want to get better at shooting corner threes. Last year, I was asked to do that and I want to keep working on that and expanding my range. I’m just sharpening everything so that I’m more comfortable and confident with my shot. At Impact, they help you become an all-around player, so I’ll be ready to play any role that’s asked of me. I’m following the Impact plan.”
Basketball Insiders: I know you’re excited about New York, but you also have a lot of friends on this Magic team and I know that you loved Orlando. Is it tough to leave and go to a new situation?
Kyle O’Quinn: “I texted all of those guys yesterday and I was FaceTiming with a lot of them. I talked to [Nik] Vucevic – he texted me from some wild number that had a plus sign and, like, 47 numbers. I talked to all of them. I love those guys. Those were my first NBA teammates and I can honestly say that I love those guys and I’ll consider them friends for life. It’s going to be tough not having them around and doing everything without them. When we would land in the city, I would immediately knock on Vooch’s door. I would get on the plane and Elfrid [Payton] and Aaron [Gordon] would bring me Chipotle. And it wasn’t even rookie duties, it just a friendship thing and we were all so tight. I’ll miss Moe [Harkless] – getting on his nerves, him getting on my nerves and singing together in the locker room with him. Man, I love those guys and had so much fun with them. They made going to work fun. I’m bottling all of [those emotions] up and accepting the fact that I’m going to another team and being excited about the new opportunity, but it will be very, very, very, very, very hard to leave Orlando and leave those guys. A lot of us are really cool with each other and we made a promise that we’d be friends for life and we’re going to stick to that. Later this summer, I think we’re all going to try to get together to grab dinner and hang out. I can’t wait to see them and we’ll stay close.”
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