NEW YORK — A year ago Kristaps Porzingis made the ultimate power move by skipping his exit meeting, sending a message to the entire organization that the dysfunction and direction required an overhaul.
This time? Porzingis, just two months into ACL rehab and up for a potential $157 million contract extension this offseason, took a much different approach. Not only did he show up to the exit interview with his personal PR person, his message to the media was that of faith and disconnection to the front office’s decisions. He also promoted an upcoming YouTube series documenting his recovery.
“Honestly I haven’t thought about things like that,” Porzingis said about the coaching search being conducted by Steve Mills and Scott Perry. “It’s all been about the knee. That’s why I do my job and they do theirs.”
As Porzingis demonstrated last year, and Carmelo Anthony dictated for much of his tenure in New York, a star player flexing his influence is not uncommon and can lead to intended results. But it’s not an ideal time for Porzingis, and it’s hard to ignore the potential powder keg hovering over his future.
Porzingis has not provided a target date for his return and even stopped short Saturday of declaring that he’ll definitely be back next season. However, the Knicks need to decide whether to offer him the big five-year extension or wait until he becomes a restricted free agent in 2019. From New York’s perspective, it’s financially advantageous to wait since it saves them about $10 million in cap space. Mills and Perry have declined at all opportunities to discuss this decision.
Waiting risks alienating the one good thing — Porzingis — the franchise has going for it. Imagine this scenario: the Knicks stink again next season (very plausible), and — after not offering Porzingis an extension — they bank on his sparkling return in January to show free agents that New York is an attractive destination.
But what if Porzingis doesn’t want to return under those circumstances, much like Derrick Rose held out in Chicago after his knee surgery and Kawhi Leonard kept away from the Spurs following his injuries? Asked Saturday if a contract extension will factor into his decision on when to return, Porzingis paused and asked for the question repeated.
“No,” he answered.
On the other side of this powder keg is Porzingis declining the contract extension because he’s unhappy with the direction of the Knicks. It’s something he’s hinted at previously — specifically that he’d like to see changes before committing long term — and frankly it’s not much easier to see a winning future today than it was when Porzingis skipped his exit interview.
Porzingis, who is going on his fourth NBA coach already, punted the question of whether he’s on board with the front office’s proclamation of patience and process.
“I’m an impatient individual in life, small things also. But I know one thing I’m going to have to be patient with the knee,” Porzingis said. “That’s the No. 1 thing right now on my mind. It’s hard for me to think about all these things. All that’s on my mind right now is my knee. When things happen, all I can think about is the next step. I’ll start thinking about it when I’m healthy.”
Porzingis said he plans to return to Latvia for the offseason and has his own team of doctors to spearhead the rehab. Then he’ll return to a new coach and an uncertain future — both regarding his contract and his recovery.
“We will just see that moment (I play again), it all depends on how I can come from the injury and how I move,” he said. “I want to come back more fluid. So whenever I see myself ready and whenever my team allows me to come back, I’ll come back. It’s tough to imagine already that decision and me trying to make that decision right now. So it’s early.”