It was the day before the opening of training camp, and there was understandably an aura of excitement at the Knicks’ facility. The Knicks have a new coach, a semi-new management team, some exciting young players and a new commitment to rebuilding from the ground up.
What the Knicks still don’t have is a healthy Kristaps Porzingis, a timetable for his return or really any kind of idea what kind of player he’s going to be when he does.
Porzingis, fresh off an airplane from Europe, stuck mostly to the non-controversial and upbeat Monday at the Knicks’ media day. Yet midway through his meeting with reporters there was one seemingly unguarded moment when the center revealed the reality of rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee.
“We’ve done things differently because there is no protocol for a 7-3 guy,” Porzingis said when asked if he was ahead or behind schedule. “There is no timetable for my type of body, my size and all that. We’ve done things differently, very conservative, and at the same time [I’ve been] killing myself working. We’re just going to have to keep moving forward, keep progressing and see when is the right time for me to be back.”
When asked if there’s a chance he sits out the entire season, Porzingis said, “It’s real ly hard to say. There’s no timetable, as I said. I am going to be back when I am healthy and medically cleared. And whenever that is, that’s when it’s going to happen.”
There really is no reason to rush Porzingis back this season and plenty of reasons not to. The team is so young that it’s possible it will have only a dozen or so wins by the All-Star break. So considering the Knicks are looking at the long term, they would be better off just playing out the season with the future in mind.
The real question that the Knicks need to be concerned about is what type of player Porzingis is going to be when he does return.
He was weeks away from his first All-Star Game when he tore his ACL after landing awkwardly after a dunk. It had been a breakout year, the first in which he was the team’s biggest star, and he responded by averaging 22.7 points and a league-high 2.4 blocks.
Yet the scariest thing about coming back from this kind of injury is that what made Porzingis so effective was his mobility. Kevin Durant nicknamed him “The Unicorn” his rookie season, saying, “We have so many players that are athletic and big and strong, but he’s a skilled player.”
Porzingis is not a big-body, low-post guy who can rely upon his muscle. For him to be the same kind of player that the Knicks were talking about building their team around last year, he is going to have to be able to move.
Even if he’s on the bench all season — a good bet — it’s clear that Porzingis is still considered the most important player on the roster. David Fizdale called him “the future of the NBA” when he was hired in May.
Porzingis is eligible for a five-year, $157-million contract extension before the start of the season. But it appears that the Knicks are comfortable waiting to sign Porzingis to the extension next summer. Doing so would provide an extra $10 million in cap space. Porzingis said he’s focused solely on the health of his knee, and not on the potential extension.
“It’s already been 7½ months,’’ he said, “so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared.”