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In a shocker, Knicks bid farewell to Kristaps Porzingis

The team trades the 7-3 "Unicorn" to clear salary-cap space so it can pursue free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer.  

Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks looks on against

Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks looks on against the Bulls at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10, 2017. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y.

He’s gone.

Kristaps Porzingis, the player who was supposed to be the linchpin of the Knicks’ rebuild, will not return to Madison Square Garden this season — or likely ever — in a Knicks uniform.

In a move that elicited a collective gasp from Knicks fans around the country, the team sent Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Courtney Lee to the Mavericks on Thursday in return for Dennis Smith Jr., two future first-round draft picks, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews Jr. The latter two players both have expiring contracts.

What the heck? Porzingis was supposed to be the best thing to happen to the Knicks in years. He was supposed to be the player who led them back to respectability. He was supposed to be the guy everyone in the league wanted to play with, a guy who was going to be the big lure this offseason when free agency began.

Well, it turns out that the tale of Porzingis in New York — just like his nickname, The Unicorn — was a little too good to be true.

Knicks fans wanted Porzingis to be a success story. A 7-3 player who could shoot three-pointers and defend. What’s not to like?

Fans quickly forgot they had booed when Phil Jackson made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Porzingis started 72 games his rookie season and quickly became a fan favorite. Last season, he was voted into the All-Star Game before suffering an ACL injury that has sidelined him since Feb. 6, 2018.

The success of Porzingis made the long-suffering Knicks faithful feel good, given that the Knicks drafted so many duds in the past.

Charlie Ward, whom the Knicks drafted in 1994, was the last player they signed to a multiyear deal beyond his rookie season. With Porzingis, fans finally thought they had found a player whose jersey they could buy and keep for more than four or five years.

And then Thursday happened.

For as much fun as he was to watch, Porzingis never has been a player to hide his frustrations easily. Having had four coaches — Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek and David Fizdale — and never having won more than 32 games, Porzingis had plenty to be frustrated by.

Yet it’s one thing to constantly demand star treatment when you are putting up big numbers every night and quite another to demand it when you are coming back from a torn ACL, a serious injury.

The Knicks and Porzingis acknowledged that big-time players of his size had not suffered that kind of injury before, and there is no guarantee that he will be the same type of player when he returns.

There also were question marks as to how Porzingis was going to get along with Fizdale, given the mini-controversy they had in November. Fizdale said he hadn’t started sprinting as part of his rehab, and Porzingis reacted by posting pictures of himself sprinting on a track, accompanied by a profane phrase that indicated someone wasn’t telling the truth.

This Knicks regime is not the one that drafted Porzingis, and it’s apparent that they think their options in free agency are better than Porzingis. The Knicks’ move was all about cap space, and the trade gives them the potential to sign two max players.

Imagine this: It is possible that next season the Knicks could have a starting lineup that includes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Dennis Smith Jr. and Zion Williamson.

OK, that probably won’t happen. But as the 10-40 Knicks head into the final 32 games without a player averaging more than 14.7 points a game, it doesn’t hurt to dream.

The KP Years

June 25, 2015 — Selected No. 4 overall by the Knicks, their highest selection since Patrick Ewing in 1985, and is immediately greeted by the image of a crying Knicks fan.

Oct. 28, 2015 — Makes his debut with 16 points in a one-sided win over the Bucks.

May 19, 2016 — Selected unanimously to All-Rookie Team.

February 2017 — Wins Taco Bell Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend.

April 14, 2017 — Dissatisfied with the turmoil in the organization, skips out on exit interview with Phil Jackson, Steve Mills and Jeff Hornacek.

Nov 5, 2017 — Scores a career-high 40 points vs. Pacers.

Feb. 6, 2018 — Comes down awkwardly on the foot of Giannis Antetokounmpo, suffering a torn left ACL, which has sidelined him since that day.

February 2018 — Selected to NBA All-Star Team by coaches but can’t play because of knee injury.

Jan. 31, 2019 — Requests trade during meeting with Knicks management and is sent to Mavericks in seven-player deal.

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