Kristaps Porzingis Paul George
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Ensuring Kristaps Porzingis returns fully healthy is a pressing concern for the New York Knicks. Paul George offers a model for success.

There’s no doubt about it. The future of the New York Knicks rests squarely on the shoulders of Kristaps Porzingis. The fate of the franchise is in his hands—or better yet, in his knee. Ensuring a fully recuperated Porzingis returns should be the top priority for the organization.

The ACL injury that The Unicorn suffered sent the organization down a far different path than anyone expected. Rather than looking to take a step towards contention in 2018-19, the Knicks are forced to play the waiting game while their superstar rehabs.

Paul George suffered a devastating injury of his own in the summer of 2014. Of course, George and Porzingis suffered very different injuries. But nonetheless, there’s a similarity between the two.

George broke his leg in particularly gruesome fashion and the Indiana Pacers’ world was flipped upside down. But rather than rush him back to action, the Pacers took their sweet time with George. The All-Star only played six games in the 2014-15 season and he only played around 15 minutes per night. But it was enough to ease him back onto the court.

Those six games let George get his feet wet. He could move past the initial hesitancy that any player has when he’s returning from a disastrous injury. By the time the 2015-16 season rolled around, George was back and better than ever.

The Knicks can follow a similar roadmap for Porzingis. It’s unclear exactly when KP plans to return. There are rumors that he could be back around the All-Star break. Some believe he may not see any action at all next season. And anyone who’s seen his latest rehab video for the Players Tribune would swear that he’ll be back for opening night. But there’s no sense in pushing the envelope.

No Playoffs, No Problem

In fact, the Pacers may have been tempted to bring George along early. They were in a playoff race that season and narrowly missed out on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. This was after Indiana took the Miami Heat to at least six games in the Eastern Conference Finals two straight years.

Conversely, the Knicks have no such incentive. For all the success in summer league, the Knickerbocker youth movement is largely unproven and it may take the young bucks time to develop into stars—if they ever develop into stars. Use this time without Porzingis to let them develop at their own pace. Developing the youth like Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and Mitchell Robinson is far more important than a futile playoff push.

Paul George
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

New York won’t be in the playoff picture, even in a watered-down East. The hope is that the neophytes exhibit promise, but regardless, this team isn’t sniffing the playoffs. It’s just not happening. No one wants to say it, but the best scenario for the Knicks involves a high pick in the lottery in 2019.

Enticing Free Agents

Testing the waters in 2019 free agency and attempting to reel in a big fish is another pivotal feature of building a contender in New York. A crucial aspect of attracting a top talent on the free agent market will depend on whether or not that player thinks they’re coming to a team prepared to win. For better or worse, the days of the lone superstar leading his team to a championship are a thing of the past. Marquee free agents want to join forces with at least one other stud.

A season in which Porzingis doesn’t play at all might leave some doubt in the minds of free agents. That can’t happen. By utilizing the George model and bringing Porzingis back for a handful of games at a reduced workload, the team can show potential free agents that KP is well on his way. He may not be back to his All-Star self in his first few games, but with an entire summer to prepare, he’ll be locked and loaded for the 2019-20 season.

The fate of the Knicks rests on Porzingis’ shoulders. That’s why they cannot botch his rehab and subsequent comeback.

Patience is the keyword here. There isn’t a single viable reason to rush KP back before he is 100 percent healthy. Moreover, even when he’s back, there’s no need to push him in the same way. The worst possible thing that can happen during the 2018-19 season is if Porzingis returns to action and suffers a setback. The best way to prevent that is by following the model set forth by Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.

Obviously, Porzingis’ timeline can change at any point and the organization will need to reevaluate the situation if it does. In fact, Porzingis may be able to return around the All-Star break. But even then, working KP back into the rotation slowly will be key. Resting him on back-to-backs and giving ample nights off, in general, is a must. It’s unclear when Porzingis will return. But patience is vital and Paul George offers the surest blueprint for success.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.