Because no moment of NBA chaos would be complete without a submission from the New York Knicks, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported during a very busy Tuesday that Knicks president Phil Jackson “is weighing the possibility of trading” third-year big man Kristaps Porzingis. This, understandably, inspired both “a frenzy of suitors across the NBA” and widespread feelings of dread and fatalism among Knicks fandom.
As it turns out, 7-foot dudes who can hit 36 percent of their threes, create something off the dribble and rank among the league’s most effective rim protectors are pretty popular, both among their teams’ supporters and NBA talent evaluators! (That’s because there are maybe a half-dozen of them in the league.) Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal told TMZ he thinks the Knicks would be better off keeping Porzingis and trading “everybody else around him” than flipping KP; I don’t often agree with the Big Fundamental these days, but this seems like wise counsel.
Just how seriously the Zen Master is “weighing the possibility” remains unclear. As Tuesday wore on, multiple reports suggested that the Knicks were less “shopping” the 21-year-old Latvian than taking calls from teams inquiring about what it would take to get him.
Such willingness to listen is very much in keeping with Jackson’s season-ending insistence that, after a fourth straight sub-.500 campaign, nobody — not even 2015’s No. 4 overall pick, who’s been the lone bright spot and sole source of hope for the Knicks and their fans during the last two dark years — is untouchable. Especially after Porzingis decided not to show up for his year-end exit interview with Jackson and general manager Steve Mills back in April, reportedly as a statement of his frustration with the “top to bottom” confusion that continued to derail the Knicks’ efforts to even approach competence. (Same as it ever was.)
Whatever the intent behind their publication, the optics surrounding Porzingis becoming trade bait sure don’t seem helpful to the Knicks. The ongoing sowing of strife between the organization and its one legitimate potential cornerstone seems, at best, unnecessary and unproductive. That’s certainly how Porzingis’ brother/representative sees it, anyway. From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
You want to say Porzingis was out of order by electing not to meet with his bosses two months ago, that’s fine. He does have an obligation to his employer. But insubordinate behavior aside, Porzingis also pulled back the curtain on a lost franchise that hasn’t improved one bit under Jackson’s stewardship. The Knicks are upset and embarrassed that Porzingis called them out.
The exit meeting snub was a costly decision. Porzingis’s favorite assistant coach, Josh Longstaff, lost his job and it could lead to Porzingis being exiled from New York, although the Knicks’ asking price may ultimately be too high.
“All I will tell you is that Kris has said that he knows that all the work he is putting in will pay off somewhere,” Kristaps’ brother, Janis, told the Daily News over the phone on Tuesday. “He is working out five hours a day. He looks good. But this other stuff all seems unnecessary.”
And from ESPN’s Ian Begley:
Neither the organization’s front office nor coach Jeff Hornacek has been in touch with Porzingis since he missed the exit meeting, per sources. Hornacek said last month that he reached out to Porzingis but indicated that Porzingis did not respond.
Porzingis’ brother, Janis — who also works for Andy Miller, Porzingis’ primary agent — reiterated Tuesday that Porzingis loves New York and wants to win there.
“Despite how the Knicks are treating their players, Kris wants to stay in New York,” Janis Porzingis said. “He loves the city and he loves the fans and he wants to win with this team. If he’s going to be traded, he’s going to play out his contact and decide his future on his own.”
Maybe Jackson is just doing his due diligence, taking advantage of the fact that high-level prospects like Arizona stretch big man Lauri Markkanen are descending on New York for Thursday’s NBA draft so he can get a better sense of what they’re about and what they can do in case their paths wind up crossing again down the line. Maybe he should be commended rather than vilified for being willing to listen to all proposals, even for his team’s most prized possession, in the event that one of them winds up being the kind of Godfather deal that can at long last turn one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises around and get them pointed toward perpetual prosperity.
Maybe, though, all Jackson’s doing by having this all come out in the street two days before the draft — and after many months of public warfare with Carmelo Anthony, and after the debacle surrounding Derrick Rose’s midseason disappearing act, and the ludicrous fiasco of having franchise legend Charles Oakley arrested, hauled out of Madison Square Garden and subsequently charged with harassment, assault and trespassing — is alienating both his team’s most valuable asset and those who might have been convinced to join Porzingis in Manhattan. From Sean Deveney of the Sporting News:
“I was talking to one of our players the other day, a free agent, and we were looking at our options,” one agent said. “And it used to be, ‘Yeah, get me to New York.’ Even when they were struggling, there are guys who want to be in the city. But he was saying, ‘no, no, not that environment, not now.’ They’re not just alienating their own players, they’re alienating all players. They’re making things hard on themselves there.” […]
“There are 30 teams, and you don’t want to write off anybody, because there’s only so many rotation spots around the league,” another agent said. “But of course you’d have to be worried about sending a guy to New York with this front office, especially an upper-level guy. Because he might be doing what he can to help and you might have the team president there ripping him in the media like it’s his fault or putting him in trade rumors.
“No one wants that. You have to be concerned about that.”
“Concern,” as ever, seems to be the order of the day at MSG.
“The front office is in full survivor mode,” a team source told Isola of the Daily News. “The place is a mess, so now they want to make it seem like the kid is the problem. Suddenly he’s uncoachable. He won’t listen. They’re trying to put it all on him.”
So Porzingis stays overseas, working out and letting all the “unnecessary” nonsense continue while he waits to see whether he’s actually going to be back in New York come September. And the Knicks, remarkably, continue to abstain from contact with their most important player, and let the calls come in.
For most teams in the lottery, the eve of the NBA draft is when hope springs eternal for a brighter future. Not for the Knicks, though. Hope might be the thing with feathers, but in New York, the things with feathers often perch on telephone wires and crap on your head on your way to work.
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