GREENBURGH, N.Y. — While the Knicks were flying out on Election Day to play in Atlanta, Kristaps Porzingis remained behind in New York, marking an anniversary of sorts. It was nine months to the day that he crumpled to the floor at Madison Square Garden, the anterior cruciate ligament in his left leg torn and his future suddenly uncertain.
A week later Porzingis underwent surgery with no timetable for his return, estimates placed at nine months on the low end and the entire loss of the current season a possibility whispered all the way up to the ownership suite.
Now that the low estimate has passed, Porzingis remains in limbo, far from ready to return to action. He works out at the practice facility, on the same stage of light jogging and shooting that he was at before training camp began. He joins in huddles at home games and in practice sessions, serving as a 7-foot-3 assistant coach. But no one seems to have any better idea of when he’ll be back.
Asked if he thought Porzingis would return this season, coach David Fizdale said. “I’m not planning on. I’m looking at these guys right now. I’m not even planning on KP at all. I can see instantly how he fits, but I’m just trying to keep my mind focused on them. Because that would just be a huge distraction for me mentally, hoping and wishing for KP, that 25, 28 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, whatever. I’ve got to lock in on these young bucks, keep them up to par.”
He clarified that he wasn’t ruling him out, but that he wasn’t counting on him.
“Just mentally for me. That’s somewhere else,” Fizdale said. “I don’t want to get distracted personally as the coach, worried about if and when he’s coming back. I’d rather be focused on the day to day task with these guys and when he gets back that’ll just be a gift for me. You can get distracted as a coach, caught up in that world of when and hopefully soon and you lose focus on what you’re doing. And these guys deserve my undivided attention.”
Porzingis has not spoken to the media since the first day of camp in September, when he noted, “Obviously I’m getting itchy and I want to get back on the court as soon as possible but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and medically cleared.”
He has other considerations, too, with the team not signing him to an extension over the summer. That means he will be a restricted free agent next summer and if he were to return and reinjure the knee he could cost himself a massive contract.
Fizdale said the training staff has benchmarks for him that he is constantly working toward. But for now, a return is pushed to the side while the team works through a developmental season geared toward better days when another lottery pick joins the team and a potential free agent is signed to play alongside Porzingis.
“He’s grinding, trying to get it right,” Fizdale said. “It’s just one of those injuries we’re going to take our time with, make sure it’s right.”
While he may not be counting on a return soon or this season, Fizdale has high hopes for what Porzingis will eventually bring to the team. In the absence of Porzingis Tim Hardaway Jr. has taken on the role of primary scorer, but Fizdale doesn’t believe that it will be hard for them to co-exist.
"The beauty of it is they complement each other,” Fizdale said. “In a lot of stuff we do they’re going to be playing off of each other. So I don’t feel like it’ll be a battle. Usually those situations are tougher when you’ve got guys that are very similar and now they’re kind of stepping on each other’s toes.
“That’s kind of something I experienced in Miami with [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron. When we first got them they were just stepping on each other's toes, because they both attack, they both post, both run high pick and roll. So we had to figure out how to get them away from each other on the floor and spread them out. This is a different scenario. These two fit. They can end up being a really deadly two-man game once we get KP back.”