Tom Thibodeau was asked who he would start when point guard Elfrid Payton (hamstring) returns from his hamstring injury. That’s now the least of his problems.
After his media availability before Tuesday’s game in San Antonio, the Knicks announced recent starter Derrick Rose is out for health and safety COVID-19 protocols. It was not immediately clear if he had tested positive or came in close contact with a person with COVID-19.
That could mean Rose is out until after the All-Star break. The Knicks finish the first half Thursday against Detroit.
Rose was to start his fourth straight game Tuesday but usually all protocols take a week, especially if he was in contact with a person with COVID-19.
“I just basically decide what’s best for the team,’’ Thibodeau said when asked who would be the future starter when everyone is healthy.
Frank Ntilikina got the start against the Spurs, and Austin Rivers, who had been banished from the rotation, was poised to finally get into a game as the backup.
Thibodeau finally addressed why he often declines to treat garbage time like garbage time and sticks with his top players in the fourth quarter of blowouts.
“That’s just a read on the game, what’s going on,’’ Thibodeau said. “The way people can make up ground with 3s, there’s no lead that’s safe.”
First-time All-Star Julius Randle played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter in Sunday’s blowout of Detroit.
Nerlens Noel, the Knicks’ lone true center, played the final nine minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Knicks led by 19 or more points the entire fourth in Detroit — except when it dropped to 17 with 55 seconds left.
When told the lead seemed very safe against the East’s worst team, Thibodeau said, “I have a lot of confidence in our bench, but we’re also trying to find a rhythm with the guys we have out and we have different groups playing. There’s a lot that goes into it and those are just coaching decisions.’’
First-year coach Steve Nash won the NBA’s Coach of the Month for February in guiding the Nets to a 9-4 record. Erik Spoelstra and Mike Budenholzer got votes. Thibodeau was shut out after going 9-5 last month turning around a franchise that had been horrific for seven straight seasons.
“I never look at that stuff, so to me the focus has to be on the team,’’ Thibodeau said. “Steve’s done a terrific job, happy for him. Terrific coach, great person. And they’re having a heck of a year. So congratulations to him. I want my focus to be on what we have to do the next day.’’
In August, legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told The Post Thibodeau was “a seasoned veteran who it goes without saying understands what wins, what loses. He knows how to put a program together, create a culture, be demanding.’’
Popovich has proved prescient with the Knicks’ 18-17 record entering Tuesday.
“Par for the course, no surprise,’’ Popovich said before facing the Knicks. “He has standards, holds everyone accountable, sticks to it. And you see the results. He’s doing a fine job.’’