GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Can Kristaps Porzingis be the face of the Knicks? Can he, at the tender age of 22, be the team’s leader? Is he ready, in just his third year in the league, to become the focal point of the offense?
Ready or not, this is the situation that the 7-3 Latvian finds himself in now that the Knicks have traded Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City. And, in his first news conference since he blew off his exit interview with the team at the end of last season, Porzingis indicated that he wants to take charge.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to be the leader of the team,” Porzingis said Monday at Media Day. “But it’s not just one guy. It’s going to be us 15 guys as a team.”
Yet, no one on the team will be as important as Porzingis, who averaged 18 points last season as the team’s second or third offensive option. Toward the end of the Knicks’ dismal 31-win season, Porzingis spoke frequently about the team’s lack of cohesion. He then was a no-show for his exit interview with former team president Phil Jackson and coach Jeff Hornacek.
On Monday, Porzingis said he has a good relationship with Hornacek. He declined, however, to address his rift with Jackson, who has since been fired and replaced by team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry.
“I’m coming into the season with a fresh mind,” Porzingis said when asked if he had been mad at the organization. “It’s a new season. I want to leave what happened, I want to leave it in the past.”
Perry said that it’s up to Porzingis to determine what he’s able to handle.
“We want to see that natural progression,” Perry said. “We’re going to support him. We’re going to push him. We’re going to hold him accountable . . . I know he’s looking forward to the challenge.”
Porzingis said he believes he can be an All-Star this season, though he knows his job will be harder without Anthony.
“Honestly, he took a lot of the pressure off of everybody,’’ Porzingis said. “He was always the No. 1 focal point for the other team . . . And now I’m going to be one of those guys that other teams are going to focus on.
“That’s one of the things that are a little more difficult for me. So it’s going to be different. It’s going to be way different. He drew so much attention. And now there’s going to be more attention on me. I have to be ready for it. It’s going to be different.”
Porzingis said he did everything he could this summer to ready himself to take on a more important position with the Knicks. Porzingis led Latvia to its best-ever showing in the European championships, averaging 23 points.
“It was a great experience for me being the leader of that team,” Porzingis said. “I think that’s also going to help me here this year.”