The Knicks did far more losing than winning in 2015, but 2016 and beyond looks bright for the franchise because of Kristaps Porzingis.
That was the Knicks’ one major victory in 2015. The 7-3 Latvian seemingly dropped into their laps — and at the time it was viewed as another setback.
The Knicks already had clinched the worst-record in their history. But they won two of their final three games and no longer had the worst record in the league. Minnesota ended up with it, won the lottery, and got Karl-Anthony Thomas.
He would have been a franchise-changing player for the Knicks. But falling to fourth in the draft gave the Knicks the opportunity to pick Porzingis, who appears to be a future franchise player. The public outcry was worse than when the Knicks took France’s Frederic Weis in 1999 but everyone likes the pick now.
From the moment Porzingis was drafted, he was out to prove he wasn’t another Weis or other big soft European who never made it in the NBA. He wants to be not only one of the best European players, but one of the best players ever.
Porzingis is only 20. He’s athletic, agile, mature and tough — mentally and physically. He has all the makings of a future All-Star and possibly someone who can attract free agents.
Team president Phil Jackson has to put the right players around Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony to maximize their potential while Anthony is still in his prime.
Opposing players are taking notice of Porzingis. Executives and coaches around the league are praising him, and Jackson for taking him. Jackson went against the grain when he listened to Clarence Gaines, his trusted confidante and Knicks’ front-office executive.
Gaines thought Porzingis could be a special player. Many scouts said it would take some time, but eventually Porzingis would be a more than serviceable pro. It happened much quicker than anyone expected, even the Knicks.
Now 2016 and future years appear bright for the Knicks — but Jackson still has plenty of work to do.
A Happy Anniversary
One year ago Tuesday, the Knicks sent J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, and all involved are happy with it.
Smith and Shumpert helped the Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals. You can argue the Knicks should have gotten more than a second-round pick and three players they ended up cutting for two of their top six guys. But the Knicks saw it as addition by subtraction.
They wanted Smith out and they knew they wouldn’t overpay for Shumpert, who re-signed with Cleveland for four years and $40 million.
The Knicks ultimately opened up roster spots that they filled with two players who have become among their top seven guys — Thomas and Galloway. The Knicks also cleared cap space that they used last summer and can use this offseason.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are favored to return to the Finals.
Karl nears milestone
Kings coach George Karl entered the weekend needing just two victories to surpass Jackson and move into fifth place on the NBA’s all-time coaching win list.
Karl, who has won 1,154 games, told NBA.com he knew Don Nelson was first, wasn’t sure who was second, third and fourth, and was fully aware that he’s chasing Jackson.
“No one has kicked my —— as often as Phil Jackson,” Karl told NBA.com. “I can’t deny that I know it’s five because it’s Phil Jackson.”
The Kings should be better than they are, and losing Wednesday to the then two-win 76ers will only fuel trade speculation involving DeMarcus Cousins . . . Speaking of trade speculation, the Bulls could be very active with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson reportedly available . . . Anthony on New Year’s resolutions: “Everybody does them and don’t follow up with them. I just like to be consistent and stay consistent and just be a better person.” Anthony’s resolution for the Knicks: “To do better than we did this year. To be better day by day.”
CIRCLE THESE DATES
Jan. 5: Teams can start signing players to 10-day contracts. The Knicks need backcourt help and have an open roster spot. Tony Wroten is on their radar and they could try D-League players. They were successful with 10-day guys last season. Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas and Lou Amundson were signed for the remainder of last year and re-upped for this season.
Jan. 16: Knicks at Memphis: Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes will be in the same place for the first time since their October fight at the home of Barnes’ estranged wife. Barnes, who was suspended for two games, is still hot. The NBA may need extra security. They play at the Garden three weeks later.
Jan. 31: Golden State at Knicks: The champs make their lone appearance at the Garden, where MVP Steph Curry, who scored 54 points there two years ago, could put on a show.
Feb. 18: The NBA trade deadline hits and the Knicks could be active. They need to upgrade at point guard and on the wing.
March 13: Knicks at Lakers: This will be the last time the Knicks face Kobe Bryant. They have plenty of ties to him — Jackson is his old coach, Fisher his former teammate and Anthony is one of Bryant’s closest friends in the NBA.
April 12: Knicks at Indiana: Will the regular-season finale be the Knicks’ last game until the fall? They’ll look more attractive to free agents if they make the playoffs. They also don’t get any relief if they miss out: Their 2016 first-round pick went to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani.
July 1: Free agency begins, and at 12:01 the Knicks likely will be meeting with Durant, followed by Mike Conley Jr. and then Rajon Rondo.