For big man Kristaps Porzingis, subtraction was the goal for this offseason. The Knicks had to do two things before the start of the coming season to pave the way for a Porzingis takeover in New York, and though it took a good bit longer than expected, the team completed the mission this weekend with the trade of Carmelo Anthony to the Thunder.
That got the Knicks free, on the floor, to make Porzingis their man for the foreseeable future. No longer will they need to run isolation plays for Anthony, and no longer will the team be expected to find the 18-20 shots per game that were going to Anthony over the past two years. Porzingis averaged 14.9 shots per game last year, which was third on the team — behind Anthony and Derrick Rose.
Anthony was one thing, but having Rose play a bigger offensive role than Porzingis was like a season-long thumb in the eye to Knicks rooters. Breathe deep. That’s all behind us. This organization is putting its stock into its baby-faced, crew-cutted Latvian, and none too soon.
There’s some irony in that the very man responsible for bringing Porzingis to New York — Phil Jackson — was also on the list of the two men who needed to be jettisoned to allow Porzingis to thrive. Jackson is gone. While Anthony kept a lid on Porzingis’ blossoming in his first two years, it was hardly Anthony’s fault. He just played the game the way he always has, and though there’s some question as to whether Anthony’s style of play has a place in today’s NBA at all, it certainly has no place next to a budding 7-3 power forward who just needs some polish.
Jackson is a different story. After having the guts to take a chance on Porzingis with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Jackson proceeded to do just about everything he could to hinder his development. If you want to be astonished, go back to March 2014 when Jackson took over the Knicks, and check out his quotes on the need for patience in the organization, his desire to build slowly and methodically with high-character, injury-free players.
Imagine if Jackson had listened to his own advice. For years, Knicks front-office types have been patient for about their first 15 or 20 minutes on the job, then felt pressure to make the playoffs and signed whatever gimpy star they could get to take their millions. When he picked a long-term project like Porzingis, it sure looked like Jackson was going to buck that trend and willingly accept missing the postseason in the short term if it boosted the long-term goal of making Porzingis a player around whom the franchise could build a contender.
Jackson signed Joakim Noah and Rose last summer, then appeared to tinker with Porzingis’ noggin by running his name through the trade-rumor mill at last year’s draft. Yeah, Porzingis missed a season-ending meeting, but after a season like the Knicks had last year, can you blame Porzingis for not really wanting to chat with the organization elders about it?
But Jackson is gone now. Anthony is gone, too. The Knicks have an interesting rookie point guard, Frank Ntilikina, who stands 6-5 with freakish potential. They have a young center who could be a starter, Willy Hernangomez, and are getting Thunder center Enes Kanter. Neither can play much defense, and that’s an issue, but each gives the Knicks a different look next to Porzingis’ all-around offensive game. The team overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr., but they’re going to need a perimeter scorer to go with Porzingis — Hardaway is 25 and should be able to chip in 15-17 points per game.
The Knicks are not going anywhere, not this year. They’re too young, and they’re not all that talented. But they should come away with a high pick in next year’s loaded draft (so we are told, at least), and they’re in position to mold a roster around Porzingis’ varied skills.
Porzingis has been the future in New York since June 2015. The Knicks should have been acting that way for the past two years. Now that Anthony and Jackson are gone, they will.