By John Schmeelk
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Can I suggest a new permanent fixture on Madison Square Garden’s marquee when the Knicks play?
“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
Kristaps Porzingis probably won’t be in uniform at the Garden again until 2019. The Knicks just lost their franchise player for the rest of this season and probably well into next season, too, because of a torn ACL in his left knee.
He was the best thing to happen to the franchise since Patrick Ewing, and now he’s gone.
The Knicks’ own incompetence has been the main cause of their nearly two decades of futility, but luck has never been on their side, either. Whether it is pingpong balls in the draft lottery, the way their players fell in the alphabet after the P.J. Brown-Charlie Ward fight, future Hall of Famers being selected right before them on draft night or knees that won’t stay healthy, nothing seems to ever go right for the Knicks or their fans.
The Knicks dodged a bullet earlier in the season when Porzingis twisted his ankle so badly it nearly touched the floor, but somehow he only sprained it. This time, his special unicorn joints couldn’t survive. The franchise showed everything that made him special when he dunked over the Greek Freak. It was the Unicorn in all his glory: athleticism, grace and power all wrapped into one. Then he landed on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot and crashed to the floor. The oxygen left the Garden. Everyone knew. It was Ewing getting pushed down by Andrew Lang and breaking his wrist all over again. A split second after KP showed why he was the franchise, the franchise was gone. He will be gone for a long time. Just like that.
This is what it means to be a Knicks fan. This is the price of admission. It’s torture. The rare time hope comes, you must see it snuffed out in the cruelest way possible. It’s pain. A genuine path forward is no longer brightly lit. It is dark and full of terrors. Winter is here, and it will last for at least a year. It’s excruciating. It’s what being a Knicks fan is all about.
A Bleak Picture For Next Season
That is all the self-loathing I will allow. Time moves forward and so must the Knicks. There are plenty of far more significant long-term consequences to what happened Tuesday night that can be addressed later. But Thursday is still the trade deadline, and Porzingis’ injury does change things.
An ACL injury usually requires a year of recovery time before a basketball player can return to the court. Then the player works his way back slowly and will take some time to regain his prior form. In other words, this season isn’t just over for the Knicks. Next season is over, too.
Even if Porzingis returns as early as January of next year, the damage will have already been done. Coming off an ACL, he will not be leading the Knicks to the playoffs, barring stunning improvement from the team’s younger players or a star walking in the door with their draft pick this year. No savior is coming this summer via free agency.
The front office is trying to set a culture of winning, but without Porzingis, that is no longer possible. No matter who plays, the Knicks are going to lose a lot of games. The only thing that matters the next two seasons is accumulating enough assets and cap space to put the Knicks in the best position possible to win in the 2020-21 season. It is a tough pill to swallow, but is reality.
The Knicks are going to be in the lottery this year and next year. They need to make the best picks possible. As they stand now, New York only has five fewer losses than the two teams with the worst records in the league: the Hawks and Mavericks. With Porzingis on the floor, dropping that far was impossible. It isn’t anymore, even if still unlikely. Depending on Porzingis’ recovery, the Knicks could be in a similar situation next year. It is two chances to add premium young players who can be ready to help Porzingis when he returns.
The front office needs to grasp this and trade everyone they can. Courtney Lee served a purpose on the roster when Porzingis was healthy. He doesn’t anymore. If he helps the team win one more game than they would without him, he is hurting the Knicks’ future. He has to go for a future asset as soon as possible.
It’s the same for everyone on this roster not named Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson and Tim Hardaway Jr. They should be shopped with reckless abandon. Even the aforementioned four should be expendable for the right price that might help the team more than them in 2020.
It’s time for the full tank, and the Knicks’ front office needs to embrace it. Things have never been clearer. It’s the only path available to them that might get them closer to where they eventually want to be. The other teams at the bottom of the standings are so bad it might not matter, but the Knicks can still drop farther if they lose enough. Every slot counts, and unfortunately for the Knicks, that’s all they have left this season.
Say No To Payton
There was a report out there Tuesday night from Real GM that the Knicks are interested in point guard Elfrid Payton, whom Scott Perry drafted in Orlando. It would be a huge mistake if they traded any assets for Payton. Much like with the Hardaway Jr. signing this summer, it has nothing to do with the type of player he is. It has everything to do with the fact that Payton is a restricted free agent this summer and the Knicks would have to use significant future cap space to bring him back long-term. Even the idea of that, especially now after Porzingis’ injury, should be a nonstarter. Payton is not a difference maker.
What To Do About Contract?
Finally, it will be very interesting to see how the Knicks deal with Porzingis’ next contract. The 76ers’ Joel Embiid still got his money even with many more injuries than Porzingis has had. Will the Knicks do the same for KP and offer him a max extension this summer, or do they wait until the summer of 2019 to see how his recovery has gone?
I would guess the latter, but if the front office can guarantee Porzingis on the roster for another half-decade after his rookie deal is up, it is hard to pass on that, isn’t it? Would the Knicks be willing to take even that small risk of making it more likely Porzingis does not return by not securing him right away, even with such a serious injury?
They are really tough questions with no easy, surefire answers that the Knicks’ front office is contemplating as I type this. Things just got much more complicated.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk