By John Schmeelk
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For some reason, after months of Kristaps Porzingis refusing to rehash the past and wisely focusing on his season, his brother and agent decided to cause some commotion.
Janis Porzingis recently gave an interview to a Latvian reporter about the Knicks’ star skipping his exit interview last season. It is turning into the first true taste of off-the-court stress in what has otherwise been a drama-free season so far.
Before going through what was actually said, I would hope Kristaps got on the phone on Thursday night and told his brother to pipe down. Nothing Janis spoke about needed to be said or has any chance of any positive impact. It was unnecessary and, frankly, stupid.
People had long ago moved on from the nonsense at the end of last season, which reflected poorly on Kristaps. So why drudge it up? There’s really no good reason. Phil Jackson is gone and there is a new regime in charge that appears to be trying to do things the right way. Kristaps is flourishing under Jeff Hornacek. Janis is a neophyte agent, and he needs to learn from this mistake. It hurts his brother, who will now have to answer questions about his unprofessional behavior at the end of last season.
Janis’ criticism of Carmelo Anthony for refusing to step up and force some kind of change last season is a little confusing. It’s unclear what Anthony could have done, spare go to James Dolan and force him to choose between him and Jackson. Publicly, Anthony was far classier than Jackson was in handling their situation. By all accounts, Anthony and Porzingis are also very close, making the recent criticism odd. I imagine it is something Kristaps also wasn’t happy about.
The reason Janis gave for Kristaps skipping the meeting actually made some sense, and was fairly predictable. He did it to send a message (presumably to ownership) that the chaos surrounding the organization had to change. It was not the right thing to do, but if it was the first falling domino that led to the eventual ouster of Jackson, it achieved its goal. The Knicks were as dysfunctional as possible under Jackson, and they were never going to turn the page until he was gone.
The most important part of Janis’ statements are the ones that concern the future. He stated (accurately) that his brother is not overly concerned about the money, since it will come either from the Knicks or someone else.
He also said the Knicks have to keep Kristaps happy and show him they can provide “the other values” that they find more important than money. The interview was translated from Latvian, so it’s dangerous to parse words too much, but the Knicks probably didn’t learn anything new about Porzingis’ future with the team. Kristaps wants to win in a stable environment. For the two years he has been with the Knicks, they have lost a lot and have been the model of instability.
The Knicks control Porzingis’ rights for the remainder of this season and one more. In the next two years, they will likely offer him a max extension that he can choose to accept, or he can play on a qualifying offer in 2019-20 and then become an unrestricted free agent that summer. The majority of big-time draft picks sign that extension because it guarantees them the most money. If they want to change teams they can still do so after the extension runs out, and still be in their mid-to-late 20s.
So how do the Knicks get Porzingis to sign the extension? First, as Janis pointed out, it can’t even be offered until next summer and a lot can happen between now and then. Second, all the Knicks can do is run the organization the way they think gives them the best chance to develop into a winner.
If Janis and Kristaps are living in a dream world where they expect the Knicks to contend for a title in the next two seasons or they will take the qualifying offer and opt for unrestricted free agency, the organization is more or less finished. It’s an impossible task. If the Knicks try to do that just to please their best player they will destroy the franchise’s future and Porzingis will leave anyway.
The Knicks need to stay the course and continue to incrementally improve. The best thing they can show Porzingis is that they are getting better, and that he will have a group of other young players around him that he can grow and compete with. If Porzingis sees a path for the team to become a winner with him as the centerpiece, the odds are likely good that he stays. If he sees Frank Ntilikina as a future starting point guard, Tim Hardaway, Jr. as a potential All-Star, and his buddy Wily Hernangomez as his front-court mate, he’ll probably stick around.
As hard as it may be, Steve Mills and Scott Perry need to refrain from a verbal back and forth and just keep doing what they are doing. They need to develop their young players and, more importantly, show that the organization is not a clown show anymore. They can’t switch plans willy-nilly like Jackson did and set the team back. The drama has to be kept at bay. It needs to be a basketball team, not a soap opera. No more nonsense.
Can anyone blame Kristaps or his brother for having long talks last spring about the Knicks and their long-term outlook? The general manager was attacking the team’s best player and his good friend publicly. That could be him in a couple years. The team lost a ton of games and was getting worse. Considering an escape plan made sense.
But Jackson isn’t here anymore. Mills and Perry are in charge. At least for the first couple months, everything has actually been about basketball. New York is the perfect city for Porzingis to grow in. It is the best city to win in, if he can pull it off. The team is young and seems to be improving. There appears to be a plan. Why wouldn’t he want to stay? He would be happy and “cool” (to use Janis’ words) if those things happen. It is the front office’s responsibility to make sure that is his calculation, and no off-the-court nonsense clouds that formula.
If it doesn’t, Kristaps Porzingis will be a Knick for a long time.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk