DALLAS — As Kristaps Porzingis finished off a Mavericks practice session Thursday afternoon, he had everything he wanted: a contending team along with a contract that made him very wealthy and ensured his future playing alongside Luka Doncic, one of the best young players in the game.
But as he talked about facing the Knicks on Friday night, his first game against the team that drafted him and made him a franchise centerpiece, he couldn’t help consider that it didn’t have to be this way.
Maybe the contentious feelings that led him to request a trade could have been soothed. Perhaps he could have remained in New York, a city he loved, and played in front of fans who adored him until it all went haywire.
“That definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen,” Porzingis said, recalling the Jan. 30 trade that sent him to the Mavericks and began whispers from both sides about why and where it went wrong. “But there wasn’t really another way how to do it. With all the emotions going on in that moment when I got traded, I put out some stupid Instagram stories, just laying in my bed late at night, ‘Oh, man, I got traded.’
“We all make mistakes. And it wasn’t perfect. There was no smooth way out of that, I think. It got a little bit ugly, but it’s in the past right now. And I have nothing negative to say really about that process. It’s all a learning process and I’m happy to be here now.”
Porzingis, who was drafted No. 4 overall in 2015 by the previous Knicks front office, was the star attraction at Madison Square Garden as the franchise moved on from Carmelo Anthony. He had his dust-ups; unhappy with the direction of the franchise, he skipped out on an exit interview. The Knicks brought in David Fizdale as coach and he went to Latvia for a week to spend time with Porzingis, trying to heal the friction while Porzingis rehabbed his torn anterior cruciate ligament. That injury, suffered on Feb. 6, 2018, was the last time he would play for the Knicks.
“We did have a nice text exchange afterward,” Fizdale said. “But he and I, our relationship was good. I think I really felt good about our relationship. We communicated. I only have fond things to say about him.”
Still, Porzingis requested a trade and the Knicks, afraid of losing him in free agency, dealt him. Porzingis would have been a restricted free agent, and instead of trading him, the Knicks could have matched any offer for him. Even in a worst-case scenario, in which he could have played for a qualifying offer and been an unrestricted free agent next summer, it still would have given them plenty of time to come together. But he was sent to the Mavericks for a package that has yet to yield results for the Knicks (1-7), who arrive with the worst record in the NBA. The Mavs (5-2) were tied for the second-best record in the Western Conference and signed Porzingis to a five-year, $158 million deal.
The whispers about Porzingis and his brother/agent Janis changed him from the great hope of a long-struggling franchise to a villain.
“It’s a part of the business,” Porzingis said. “I have nothing but love for the city of New York and the fans. They showed me so much support the time I was there. They’re so passionate about the team. So it’s normal that they feel that way. All I can do is just look forward to what I have in front of me and not what I have behind. And that’s it. It is what it is.”
Asked if there was anything he wanted to clarify about the departure, he said, “I’ll probably get in more trouble if I start talking about that stuff. It is what it is. It wasn’t ideal. But now I’m in a new place and I’m looking forward to the future. I don’t want to go back too much and bring that stuff back up. It is what it is. It happened and it’s part of the business. It just ended up that way.”
Notes & quotes: Mitchell Robinson (concussion) will be sidelined Friday and will continue to be evaluated. He did fly with the team to Dallas . . . Dennis Smith Jr., who was part of the package obtained in the Porzingis deal, flew to Dallas to be with the team after spending the last 12 days in North Carolina after the unexpected death of his stepmother. He is unlikely to play.