When David Fizdale got the job as Knicks coach, one of his first promises was to reach out to Kristaps Porzingis, even if that meant packing up and heading to Latvia. It made sense to create a bond with the injured star of the team, after the previous regime created a distance between the two sides.
So Fizdale and his wife headed out on a peacekeeping mission, spending a week with Porzingis and his family, sampling the local culture and bridging the gap with a player he knew might not play for him this season because of injury
All good, right?
But when Fizdale erroneously said that the rehabilitating 23-year-old had not yet started sprinting or made any huge jump in his rehab process, why did Porzingis immediately respond with an instagram story rather than a word with his coach. The post consisted of photos of him running on a track and then concluded with a message that we’ll interpret politely as, “That’s not true.”
Just as Phil Jackson had troubles with Porzingis — and plenty of other players, as Carmelo Anthony would attest —Fizdale had troubles with Marc Gasol during his brief tenure in Memphis. So getting it right with Porzingis is a priority. According to Fizdale, the two spoke Friday morning, the day after the mistake, and all was well. Fizdale took responsibility for providing the wrong information.
“I talked to him this morning, we had a great talk about it,” Fizdale said.“I think how he took it was that people thought he wasn’t busting his hump. He took it personally. It got to him that people would think that. And he’s really, this guy has been a terror on his workouts. I think that’s what it was in response to. So I think maybe when he heard me say, ‘Hey, we’re taking it slow’ and all of that stuff, that’s what we’re doing but at the same time he don’t want people thinking that he’s not busting his hump because he’s killing it.”
So, again, all good?
Well, maybe. But it did make you wonder what’s going on with Porzingis, who hardly hid his displeasure with the previous regime. He skipped out on his exit interview with Jackson, and Jeff Hornacek — and maybe worth noting, Steve Mills, who was general manager at the time and now has ascended to team president with the firing last summer of Jackson.
And Porzingis is a restricted free agent at season’s end, so every signal will be dissected and studied, from both sides. The Knicks neglected to provide Porzingis with a contract extension, a decision that was discussed with his representatives. Mills and general manager Scott Perry have said that they were all on the same page ,needing that space free for next summer’s free agency.
But does everything feel exactly on the same page? Or are there hints that maybe it wasn’t just Jackson that caused the rift? In a developmental season in which eyes are trained on the Knicks players, this might be a reason to keep an eye focused more on the player who is not in uniform.
Fizdale shuffled the rotation after five games and has shown that even if he has opted for a starting lineup filled with young players, he is giving the minutes to whoever has it rolling that night. That means that Enes Kanter, disgruntled with the move to the bench, has played 41 and 30 minutes in the last two games, while rookie Mitchell Robinson, who took the starting spot, played only 11 and 15 minutes.
"I have a rough plan of minutes that I want to divvy up . . . But sometimes in the flow of the game, like the other night when we played Chicago, Enes was so dominant, I’m like, ‘You gotta play,’” Fizdale said. “And he played 40. When guys are really balling, I’m going to let them roll and let them play a lot of minutes. We’ve got 82 games. All of these guys will get opportunities to develop, but I don’t want to cut a guy off when he’s playing great just to keep rotating guys. So yeah, that’s kind of how I’m looking at it and how I go into the game when I’m divvying it up.”
The morning after the Knicks won in Atlanta, the Hawks' Twitter account posted a video creating a pro wrestling type event out of a play in which Kanter was flipped dangerously to the floor. While he wasn’t hurt, he didn’t take kindly to the Hawks making light of his fall.
\“I don’t know who’s running their social media — a high schooler?” Kanter said. “I have no idea. I know they’ve been tweeting some crazy stuff. Probably a high schooler. Whoever it is they should consider anyone [else] for sure because it is terrible.
One thing the Hawks did was place the music from The Undertaker, Kanter’s favorite wrestler, in the video. Kanter said he’s already planning on a second career as a professional wrestler when his basketball days are done.
“Yeah, I’m already talking to people,” Kanter said.