GREENBURGH, N.Y. — There will be a day, maybe not in this calendar year and maybe not even in the 82-game schedule looming in front of them, when the Knicks will be able to rely on Kristaps Porzingis to lead them to a long-awaited Promised Land.
But for now, the best the Knicks can do as they begin training camp is hoping, wishing and relying on good vibes.
One by one, their players made their way to the table and took the microphone on media day Monday afternoon, mouthing their belief in the potential of the team and the hopes that they can surpass the meager expectations. But it was the first player to speak who likely holds the key, and he was not coming with any promises.
Porzingis was in uniform, but as the franchise centerpiece, the key to any of those high hopes, he came with no timetable or predictions for when he will return to action.
“I’m hungry,” Porzingis said. “I want to be on the court as soon as possible. It’s good that I have a good team around me, holding me back when I need to be held back, telling me I need to be patient. It’s a long process, already 7 1⁄2 months. I’m getting itchy. But it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and medically cleared.”
The Knicks’ front office has been open about where this team is in the rebuilding process, gathering an assortment of young, athletic and mostly unproven players on the roster and looking ahead to next summer, when the franchise will have the salary-cap space to pursue a star piece to place alongside Porzingis.
But for now, Porzingis is on a rehabilitation schedule, one with no end in sight, and is unable to rule out the possibility of sitting out the entire season. Without Porzingis, who averaged 22.7 points per game last season and earned his first All-Star berth before suffering a torn ACL on Feb. 6, the Knicks enter the season with few expectations from outsiders.
The players, though, insist that this season is not the lost cause that others may be predicting for them.
“So far it’s good vibes around here, good energy around here,” Porzingis said. “It’s good to be in an environment like this. We’ll see. I just got here from Europe, but there is good energy. That’s the first thing I saw and am happy about.
“Every new season, there’s good and positive energy. It’s when things go south you have to stay mentally strong and keep pushing forward. It is new faces and a good energy. That’s all I can say for now.”
The Knicks for now will depend on a handful of veterans — Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter, Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas — to guide a roster that is younger and more athletic than recent incarnations were. Rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, along with 20-year-old Frank Ntilikina, may be the future of the organization, but it’s a future that is part of a long-term process.
To make that happen, the Knicks are counting on the learning curve accelerating for some of the younger players and even the quartet of former lottery picks who have underachieved in previous stops — Trey Burke, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay and Noah Vonleh. New coach David Fizdale has stressed that while the team focuses on player development, he still wants the players to work toward winning every day — even if it’s just learning how to win.
“I would say that you just feel a different energy here,” said Thomas, 30, the longest-tenured player on the roster. “I felt the energy when I went to [Fizdale’s introductory] press conference at the Garden. I saw how he spoke with a lot of passion, I saw how he spoke about how he had to overcome a few things, had to look in the mirror and figure out how to fix a problem. And as a man, I can respect that.
“Now a lot of people don’t know how to own up to responsibility and be able to take whatever on the chin and keep moving. When I heard, then I see his day-to-day approach, I see how he is with the oldest guys all the way down to any of our rookies. There’s no favoritism, there’s no I’m [going] to treat a rookie different [than how] I’m [going] to treat a veteran, and I respect that. I’m very excited to work with him, and I know he’s going to get the best out of the young guys as well.
“I can promise one thing. I can promise we’re going to be exhausted after every game, because we’re going to play our hearts out. One, we owe that to each other, but two, we owe it to the city.
“I’m not going to get into numbers of wins and losses, because that has nothing to do with the progress of how we’re going to continue to grow. We’re going to continue to fight. Every game, we’re going out with the intentions to win.”