Kristaps Porzingis
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Knicks should be serious about re-signing Kristaps Porzingis in the offseason. That means making things right, once and for all.

Josh Benjamin

For someone who hasn’t played this year, Kristaps Porzingis finds a way to stay in the headlines.

The New York Knicks’ star big man is still recovering from ACL surgery and will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Knicks can match any offer he receives, sure, but what if that hurts both sides? Who’s to say Porzingis won’t just take the money and mozy along?

The larger issue is the Knicks and Porzingis clearly haven’t been on the same page at times, and simple communication can solve any problems. If New York is serious about keeping the 7-foot-3 Latvian, management will start mending the fence with KP now.

The Phil Jackson Fiasco

From a fan’s perspective, it’s hard to not feel at least a little bad for Porzingis. David Fizdale marks his fourth head coach since he was drafted in 2015. That’s four head coaches in four years, each having different coaching philosophies. Derek Fisher incorporated the triangle offense with some isolation. Kurt Rambis was a strict triangle advocate. Jeff Hornacek focused on a fast-pace and smooth transition game, while Fizdale’s balanced attack clearly leaves a positive impact on the roster.

But let’s go back to the triangle offense. The team ran it or some incarnation of such at the direction of the former president of basketball operations Phil Jackson. He drafted Porzingis expecting him to play a key role in the triangle offense, but the rest of the NBA had other ideas. Jackson’s system just didn’t have a place in today’s fast-paced game, and the Knicks’ record under his watch shows it. New York hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013 and struggles despite playing in the league’s largest media market.

And though Porzingis took steps forward in each of his first three seasons, it was clear he and Jackson weren’t on the same page. The communication breakdown between him and the front office was so bad in the 2016-17 season, he skipped his exit interview with Jackson. Soon after, Jackson and the team mutually agreed to part ways. Former general manager Steve Mills assumed the role of team president while Scott Perry came in to take over as general manager. The circus appeared to be long over, or so we thought. Porzingis’ brother Janis said early the following season it would take more than money to extend his brother.

The Soap Opera Continues

And when Hornacek was fired and replaced with Fizdale, everything appeared on the up and up. Though Porzingis would miss the start of the season, Fizdale’s reputation as a strong communicator spoke for itself. Sure enough, Fizdale went and visited Porzingis in Latvia that summer. This had to mean the relationship between Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks was improving.

Well, not exactly. Fizdale said in November Porzingis wasn’t yet able to sprint, which Porzingis quickly corrected. Fast forward to earlier this month, and Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reported what Porzingis’ brother said just over a year ago. Money wouldn’t mean an automatic extension.

So, it seems we’re right back to square one. If Porzingis is to remain in New York under the best possible circumstances, it starts with the front office. No more of the soap opera. This is the NBA, not The Young and the Restless.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Future

The good news for the Knicks is, when push comes to shove, Porzingis will probably remain in New York for the foreseeable future. The Knicks can offer him a five-year, $158 million extension, per Bondy. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is to free up more cap space for the summer’s free agent market, which features Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant.

Moreover, New York holds Porzingis’ Bird rights. Under the terms of the CBA, this means the Knicks can go over the salary cap without penalty to retain Porzingis. Not only that, but all Perry needs to do to keep Porzingis restricted in free agency is extend a qualifying offer. That means even if another team offers Porzingis big money, the Knicks can match the offer and keep him.

The situation may look scary on the outset, but it really does favor the Knicks.

Final Thoughts

And for the New York Knicks to do anything but keep Porzingis would be foolish. He is a once in a generation talent and can be a force in the paint as well as from long range. The man truly is a unicorn and not one that comes with hokey imagery worthy of The Care Bears.

But if the Knicks are serious about keeping him in the Big Apple, it starts with a full reset. Perry, Fizdale, and Mills need to sit down with Porzingis and his camp and be fully transparent. There have been too many communication breakdowns. There will probably be some in the future. The difference now is this front office trio appears willing to hold itself accountable. Their first priority is not just ensuring Porzingis’ happiness in New York, but making sure he moves closer to playing for a winning team.

Maybe it will take a presentation for the offseason’s plan. Maybe a conversation will suffice. Perhaps the situation really isn’t as bad as it’s being made out to be.

But one thing is certain. All is not 100 percent right between Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks.

If the team is serious about winning in the near future, the olive branch will be extended because the ugly truth is simple.

Without Porzingis, it will again be a long time before Knicks basketball is associated with winning.

 

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