Kristaps Porzingis, the enigmatic 22-year-old Latvian big man, tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, the direction of the franchise is truly up in the air.
The focus of the season, and possibly the focus of the franchise, has shifted monumentally. For the next 27 games, head coach Jeff Hornacek will have to task himself with ensuring Frank Ntilikina gets his fair share of minutes, Tim Hardaway Jr. breaks out of his shooting slump, and that the Knicks play for their draft pick.
For Porzingis, the road to recovery is a long one. ACL injuries have taken Iman Shumpert from Knicks fans when he was once a promising shooting guard, and on the other side of recovery, given the Knicks a defunct version of Derrick Rose for a season. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton wrote a piece about players aged between 21 and 23 when they tore their ACL—only Jamal Crawford, Corey Brewer, and Adam Morrison performed better than expected. Despite the setback, age could still be on KP’s side. Now fully recovered, Zach LaVine, a building block for the Chicago Bulls tore his ACL last year with Minnesota, has recovered well and is proving to be a valuable asset alongside Lauri Markkanen—a story Knicks fans should keep in mind moving forward.
A better look:
Nothing graphic, but an awkward landing for sure.
Get well soon, Kristaps. pic.twitter.com/uLNrAoRpFM
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 7, 2018
Despite Porzingis’ accomplishments in his first season sans Carmelo Anthony on the Knicks, ankle and elbow injuries lingered, which created a downfall in production each month. Since starting the season in elite form, Porzingis’ scoring averages dropped from 30.2 points per game to 24.2 then 22.2, 20.3, and lastly 16.3 in the four-plus months of 2017–18. The nagging ankle and elbow injuries played a part alongside Hardaway Jr.’s absence, which led to added defensive attention on Porzingis. All of this being said, Porzingis broke out into that elite form that warranted a All-Star selection, his first honor and a proud accomplishment.
Porzingis, in his third season, was voted into the All-Star pool and picked by Team LeBron while also prepping himself to retain his Skills Challenge title during All-Star Weekend.
On January 29, speaking to the press, Porzingis mentioned his playoff aspirations, making it clear he wanted the Knicks to go after veterans for a playoff push. “Playoff experience for myself, individually, would be huge at this point in my career—the sooner, the better,” the big man said. However, with KP sidelined for considerable time, the Knicks must approach Thursday’s trade deadline far differently.
From here on, with Porzingis with an arduous rehab schedule and the Knicks having dealt Willy Hernangómez for two second-round picks, it seems obvious that New York will be sellers come Thursday’s deadline with Courtney Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, and if possible, Joakim Noah being the focus of general manager Scott Perry’s efforts. With a losing effort clearly the motive, the goal of the Knicks this trade deadline will be aiming to garner picks or raw, young talent. As indicated in the Willy trade, the Knicks goal was to stockpile picks and now, despite Hernangómez showing potential, the Knicks have two second round picks (2020 and 2021) that belong to a lackluster Charlotte Hornets team.
Scott: At least we didn’t trade Willy yet
— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 7, 2018
Looking further at the draft, a fair projection for this Knicks team would be a pick in the 5–8 range, which could mean possible talents like Trae Young, Luka Doncic, or Mohamed Bamba, to name a few. All three have proven to be elite college or overseas talents, so the blessing in disguise comes in the form of the Knicks slipping down the draft boards, acquiring a better pick, and adding cheaper talent to surround Porzingis when he returns to action. The offseason, though, is where things get tricky. The Knicks do not have enough to offer a max-contract, but do have enough to acquire a high level starter—the issue is how much trust the front office has in Porzingis to come back to the court as healthy as possible. With Jusuf Nurkic, Aaron Gordon, and Clint Capela all available, the Knicks could bolster the frontcourt, but the team won’t have assurance that Porzingis comes back at full strength.
The biggest question mark that arises out of this injury is as to what New York will opt to do regarding Porzingis’ rookie extension. A rookie extension gives the opportunity to a team to offer a player a contract the summer prior to their four-year deal expires. In Porzingis’ case, that will be this upcoming summer. Last offseason, Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins both signed new five-year deals worth $146.5 million. Regarding Porzingis, he would have been in line to receive this without a second of hesitation, but with the injury being as serious as it is, the Knicks might opt for him to go into restricted free agency.
Porzingis tearing his ACL is the nightmare no Knicks fan could have even thought of, and now, without the reassurance that the superstar New York oh-so-desperately craved will be back to his full strength, the Knicks have more questions than they can supply answers for. A definitive selling stance for yet another season at the trade deadline, a lottery bound draft pick and a summer of uncertainty await Perry and team president Steve Mills.