Knicks coach David Fizdale is giving himself one more game before deciding on his starting point guard for opening night, Wednesday in San Antonio.
According to a New Orleans source, Elfrid Payton was all but promised he would be the starter when he agreed on a two-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks on July 1. The second year is a team option.
Other than a decent payday, it may be one reason Payton, 25, was eager to leave the Pelicans, the team the Knicks host Friday in the preseason finale.
Payton told The Post he had a chance to return to New Orleans, even after the Pelicans traded for Lonzo Ball. Jrue Holiday prefers to play shooting guard.
Fizdale will not play Frank Ntilikina on Friday so he can get a stronger look at Dennis Smith Jr., who was a flop in his preseason debut this past Wednesday versus the Hawks.
Fizdale presumably wants to get another chance to see Payton play before making his decision. The coach has said the starting point-guard job could rotate as the season goes along.
Payton was intentionally rested against Atlanta so Fizdale could hone in on Smith and Ntilikina, who has been on and off the trading block. (The Pistons reportedly have inquired about him.)
A penetrator and playmaker who has struggled with his outside shooting, Payton had a solid preseason debut against Washington, but was erratic in the following game versus the Wizards and wound up 0-for-9, missing a lot of easy attempts close to the basket.
“What EP does, gets into the paint, it’s kind of hard to keep him out of there, he can finish around the rim very well,’’ Holiday said at the Friday morning shootaround at the Garden. “He can play defense very well. His vision on the court, that’s why he’s a point guard. But one thing last year for me, that was how well he shot the three. And I think people kind of slept on that.’’
Payton, who hails from New Orleans and played in college at Louisiana-Lafayette, and Smith were set to be the point guards Friday. Shortly before tip-off, it was revealed Smith was Friday’s starter.
Asked if he wanted Payton to return, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said: “Yeah, he’s a good player and a local guy. I think those guys make decisions based on what’s best for them and I couldn’t be happier for him, really, he’s a great kid.”
Smith, for his part, had trouble keeping attached to Atlanta’s Trae Young on Wednesday and was miserable on the offensive end, shooting 1-for-5 with three turnovers. The former North Carolina State stud missed the first two preseason games and rust was a factor.
Fizdale said Smith was enjoying a solid training camp before a back injury put him out of the open scrimmage at Columbia University two weeks ago.
Smith probably has a higher ceiling than Payton and his situation is intriguing politically as the centerpiece of the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster trade. Porzingis, returning with a new massive body frame, is having a solid preseason withe Mavericks.
Payton told The Post this week that playing New Orleans wasn’t motivating for him and he left by his own choosing. Despite a knee injury that held him to 42 games last season, Payton posted five straight triple-doubles. He averaged 10.6 points, 7.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds.
“They asked me to come back,’’ said Payton, who was drafted by the Magic in the 2014 lottery when Knicks general manager Scott Perry worked for Orlando. “I just felt this was a better situation. It was a better fit. [Ball] had no effect. I’m not afraid of competition.’
In July, Payton told Hoopshype the chance to play substantially was a strong factor in choosing the Knicks over several other options.
“Playing time was a factor and it depended on the deal,’’ Payton said. “I obviously don’t mind playing on a one-year deal — I did it last year and I feel like I did just fine — but when you’re in a situation where you’re on a one-year deal, you have to be able to play to showcase what you can do. If you’re on a one-year deal and you don’t play, then your hands are kind of tied, you feel me?”