Keidel: Grooming Porzingis Is Knicks' Chance To Finally Do Something Right -- And It's Not Going Well
By Jason Keidel
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When you go from a lanky, Latvian teen to a top-five pick in the NBA Draft, meet expectations, then soar over them, this should be the time of your young life. Still years before personal and professional peak. Drafted by the man with more rings than Liberace. Christmas tunes created in your name by folks at WFAN. The adoration of the greatest city and media vortex of the world.
But rather than adding layers to his name and game and nudging the Knicks closer to their first title since 1973, Kristaps Porzingis is already musing profoundly and publicly about his NBA future. Perhaps he already has a sense of how laughable his employer is, as the 7-foot-3 wunderkind is already shrouded in overtures that his future may not include a bite from the Big Apple.
The Knicks are so plagued, so diseased, so dysfunctional that they literally can't get anything right.
They hire neophyte coaches who naturally fail. They hire the greatest head coach in history, but not as a head coach. They sign a one-dimensional scorer to a monster contract. (Technically the deal was with Denver, but was assumed by the Knicks within 24 hours.) Then a few years later, they sign the decaying scorer to another monster contract -- and have the kindness, and incompetence, to add a no-trade clause.
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Now their new next franchise player, Porzingis -- a whole lot younger, cheaper and with a wider skill set -- is at odds with the franchise. First, he skipped his exit interview with team president Phil Jackson. Hardly an act of treason, but surely an act of defiance. Then Porzingis again defied the Knicks this week by deciding to play for the Latvian national team at EuroBasket this summer, which goes directly against the Knicks' wishes for the past two years. And he doesn't particularly care what his employer thinks.
No single act adds up to wholesale rebellion. But his aggregate choices make for a pattern of vocational disregard.
Now we hear murmurs about his future. Porzingis told the New York Post last week that he indeed wants to stay in the Big Apple, with the Knicks. Why is this even an issue? Why is a 21-year-old budding superstar already discussing his future with the Knicks when he just got here?
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It speaks to the biblical dysfunction that haunts the Knicks, every time, ever year, everywhere. The first few years of a kid's career should be about growing his game, building his brand, adding layers to his obscene skill set. The first few years should be a hardwood honeymoon, when the kid and the club fall in love and vow to a vocational marriage that lasts at least a decade, or at least until both squeeze through the thorny portal of finance and free agency down the road.
The Knicks should know that they not only have a great player, but that he's also happy to be here, that he sees that the world and his future are decidedly orange and blue. And when it's time for Porzingis to cash in on his stardom, the Knicks will have more money to give him than anyone. Because they drafted him. Because he's a homegrown player. Because he wants to be here.
The fact that Porzingis already has to declare his fidelity only portends the opposite. His loyalty should be self-evident. The news leaking from Madison Square Garden, the world's most overrated arena, should not be that he's skipping meetings, breaking a pledge not to play overseas or having to assert he's happy to play in the ancestral home of hoops, New York City.
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In two years, Porzingis will be a restricted free agent. He will have lived four years of NBA life. And he will just be 23 years old. He will just be entering his prime. The Knicks have a few years to show him they're caring, capable and competent, and that, at 21, he shouldn't have to worry about any of this.
Or very soon they will be stuck with the one player they don't want, Carmelo Anthony, and without the player they need, Kristaps Porzings.
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