Kristaps Porzingis did not blow off his exit interview this year.
He was here bright and early on a Saturday morning, early enough to take time to talk with reporters before sitting down with Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry.
Unlike last year, when he sent a not-so-subtle message by refusing to meet with then-president Phil Jackson, Porzingis said and did most of the right things Saturday. He declared that the rehabilitation of his season-ending knee injury is going well but avoided giving a timetable for his return. He said he believes he can get back to the All-Star level he was playing at early last season. When asked about the Knicks’ coaching situation, he made it clear that he believes the front office will make the “right decisions,” without elaborating on what those decisions might be.
Still, there was one slightly unguarded comment toward the end of his 10-minute news conference that might give Knicks fans some pause. When asked about the direction in which the franchise is going, and if patience might be a problem, Porzingis paused.
“I’m an impatient individual in general in life. About small things also,” he said.
Though he went on to talk about how he can’t think about anything but rehabbing his knee, the message came through loud and clear. If Porzingis indeed is the future of the Knicks, he might have to be coaxed into getting involved in a long-term rebuild.
Getting this Knicks team right is not going to be a short-term project. Mills and Perry all but said so in their joint news conference on Thursday, mentioning “patience” at least a half-dozen times.
The Knicks and Porzingis are entering a pivotal offseason. Porzingis, who is headed back to Latvia, has to rehab his knee with the hope of being ready to return to the court sometime next season. The Knicks’ to-do list is less painful but decidedly longer.
The first order of business for Mills and Perry is to hire a coach who can relate to and develop the players and is a collaborative-type guy who — let’s face it — is beholden to them for having been given the job.
Jeff Hornacek, who was brought in by Jackson and fired last week, was never their guy and likely would have had to take this team to the playoffs to keep his job this year.
Candidates Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson have strong personalities and track records. Both, for better or worse, are going to have a lot of their own ideas that might be in conflict with management’s. I think this knocks Rivers and — to a lesser extent — Jackson out of consideration.
The second order of business is to put themselves in position to hit a home run in the draft. Having finished the season with the ninth-worst record in the league, the Knicks have only a 6.1 percent of getting one of the top three picks when the draft lottery is determined on May 15. What they do have is a 93.5 percent chance of drafting either ninth or 10th in a very deep draft.
The very best chance to accelerate their plan — see Donovan Mitchell in Utah — is through the draft. This is a team with plenty of needs. Small forward tops the list, but a really good point guard wouldn’t hurt, either. The bottom line is they need to take the very best player on the board when it’s their turn to pick and sort things out later.
The biggest thing Knicks management has to do, however, is something no one has talked about. Perry and Mills have to decide whether Porzingis is the future of this team, whether he’s the Patrick Ewing of this generation and a player they want to build a team around.
The answer to this was a lot clearer at the beginning of last season, when he was putting up All-Star-caliber numbers before tearing his ACL.
Mills and Perry can offer Porzingis a five-year, $157-million extension this summer during free agency. Before the injury, the organization seemed comfortable with the idea of making that offer. If the Knicks offer Porzingis an extension in the summer of 2019 instead, it could create an additional $10 million in cap space for them to use in free agency that summer.
Porzingis, who is going on his fourth coach in four seasons, insists he wants to remain in New York. “I love this place,” he told reporters.
The question, however, is whether he and the Knicks love one another enough to be patient through a long-term rebuild.