This hasn’t exactly been the smoothest summer for Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks. After another disappointing season in which the 7-foot-3 forward admitted he’d felt frustrated by the franchise’s ongoing dysfunction and the lack of on-court success that has come with it, Porzingis chose not to attend an exit interview with Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson, preferring to head back to his native Latvia for a long summer of workouts rather than sticking around to hear more about the triangle offense and his place in it.
That irked Jackson, leading to reports swirling in the run-up to June’s 2017 NBA draft — reports that the Zen Master himself would confirm the night before the draft — that Jackson was considering cutting bait on the first player in NBA history to log more than 250 blocked shots and 100 made 3-pointers in his first two pro seasons. That suggestion angered downtrodden Knicks fans at least as much as Porzingis’ absence bothered Jackson; it even spurred one of them to put up a giant “DON’T TRADE PORZINGIS” billboard outside Madison Square Garden on draft night, just to make sure Jackson and Knicks owner James Dolan heard the voice of the fan. (Dolan wasn’t at the Garden that night, but he still heard it, loud and clear.)
As it turned out, Porzingis wasn’t the one leaving town. Jackson was, with former general manager Steve Mills elevated to president of basketball ops and former Sacramento Kings executive Scott Perry imported to serve as New York’s new GM. What exactly that meant for the franchise’s interactions with Porzingis remained unclear, though Mills claimed the two have a “hectic texting relationship,” which if nothing else seemed better than the radio silence of the latter days of the Jackson regime. In his first chat with reporters since the end of the season, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, ahead of the NBA’s special Africa exhibition on Saturday, Porzingis offered a bit of sunshine to part the gloom that’s clouded the sky over MSG for much of the summer. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com:
He’ll be the youngest player in the NBA Africa Game here Saturday, where he’ll look to do his part to spread goodwill. Even more important, he’s anxious to do the same next season with the Knicks.
“So far it’s been tough in New York, but my journey is only beginning and I hope to stay there my whole career, so as a city we can have some fun and win some games and do something big,” he said.
“For me, it’s now home.” […]
Porzingis seems willing to give the Knicks the benefit of the doubt after Jackson was fired and replaced by Scott Perry. Suddenly, the Knicks have a new voice and a new philosophy, having been freed from Jackson’s stubborn insistence in using the triangle offense, which wasn’t embraced by the locker room.
“For everybody, a lot of things were surprising and a lot of things were unexpected,” he said. “We’ll see when I get there and start working out with the guys. We’ll see what has changed. It’s hard to say with everything going on in New York but once I get there I’ll see things more clearer.”
It’s worth noting that Porzingis never suggested that he wanted to skip town — rather, that he just didn’t seem to have much faith in the way things were going.
“All I will tell you is that Kris has said that he knows that all the work he is putting in will pay off somewhere,” Kristaps’ brother, Janis, told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News after word of trade talks began to spread. “He is working out five hours a day. He looks good. But this other stuff all seems unnecessary.”
“Despite how the Knicks are treating their players, Kris wants to stay in New York,” Janis Porzingis told ESPN’s Ian Begley. “He loves the city and he loves the fans and he wants to win with this team. If he’s going to be traded, he’s going to play out his contact and decide his future on his own.”
Whether the Knicks’ damaging organizational approach improves at all under new management very much remains to be seen. (Here’s where Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reminds us that, while the top dog just got axed, his replacement has actually been part of the front office that has overseen much of the disastrous past two decades at the World’s Most Famous Arena.) If nothing else, though, it seems for now like Porzingis is willing to come to training camp with an open mind, and with his sights set not only on an improvement over last year’s 31-51 mark, but on further establishing himself as the cornerstone of the Knicks’ future — a future that, as Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders recently noted, will most likely include New York offering Porzingis a five-year maximum-salaried contract extension next summer that could pay him a total of $156.6 million and keep him in Manhatan through 2025.
How much of that future Porzingis will spend sharing the frontcourt with Carmelo Anthony, of course, is the biggest question still facing the Knicks right now. After a yearlong battle with Jackson, the 10-time All-Star has held to his desire to be traded, but has now said he will only waive the no-trade clause in his contract if the Knicks can direct him to the Houston Rockets, where he can team with fellow stars Chris Paul and James Harden. New York has declined to move too far down that particular road, wanting to find a deal that will deliver both salary cap relief and a bushel of assets in the form of young cost-controlled players and draft picks with which the Knicks can rebuild around the core of Porzingis, Spanish center Willy Hernangomez, 2017 lottery pick and French point guard Frank Ntilikina, and recently re-signed shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.
Mills and Perry have represented that they’d be willing to bring Anthony to training camp in September if no such package presents itself before then. If ‘Melo does indeed turn up in New York next month, Porzingis will be glad to see him. More from Powell:
“He’s an All-Star, an incredible player and I’ve learned so much from him,” Porzingis said. “There’s still so much for me to learn form him. I would love to have him around and keep playing alongside him. But it is what it is. It’s a business. If it ends, well … I don’t know, it’s out of my hands. I’m really thankful for these couple of years I’ve been with him, just seeing how he works during the summer. It proves he wants to win and he wants to be great. I’m sure he’ll make the right decision for himself.”
Come next summer, Porzingis will have the chance to make such a decision, too. A lot can change in a year — hell, a lot has changed with these Knicks since Kristaps skipped his exit interview three months ago — but for now, it seems, he’s interested in staying put.
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