Don’t quit on these Knicks

Dear Knicks fans,

To say the past few weeks have been crazy would be an understatement. While we were focused on the murmurs around Anthony Davis, the Knicks front office pulled off one of the most polarizing trades in franchise history. To the surprise of most (outside of Steve Mills, Scott Perry & maybe the club medical staff), Kristaps Porzingis is gone. Done. Cancelled in New York.

The temperamental Latvian phenom went from unicorn savior to public enemy number one in a matter of hours. There are a lot of facts swirling about the whos, whats, whens and whys, but I’m not here to dive down that rabbit hole. As the dust settles and New York continues on in its rebuild, separating fact from emotion paints a very different picture for the future of our franchise.

Without the need to slander anyone or trade insults, I want to have an honest talk about Kristaps Porzingis. His skillset can’t be ignored. A 7-foot player who can shoot the three and block shots is ridiculous…on paper. When he was drafted in 2015, Kristaps’ skillset was relatively unheard of…until Steph Curry officially broke basketball. The league has been moving in the direction of perimeter scoring ever since.

KP was essentially the first of his kind (a big man who was a modern perimeter scorer) and the city, hungry for something good…anything good…celebrated him like he was the second coming of Patrick Ewing.

Can we agree that in hindsight this was definitely an overreaction?

Porzingis remains unique as a 7’3″ big man who can both block shots and score like a guard; but his scoring ability, alone, is not as unique as it once was with the rest of the league catching up to the modern style of the NBA. Every functional big man from Brook Lopez to Marc Gasol can shoot the long ball now. Spacing has become more important than ever, and as always, players continue to evolve. Let’s not forget the Lauri Markkanen once set a Bulls franchise record for threes against us. Sigh. The life of a Knicks fan is tough, but I digress. The point here is that Porzingis’ skillset is easier to find than it once was and what he brings to the game can be emulated by a combination of other players (shout out to Luke Kornet).

Another uncomfortable truth about Porzingis is linked to his injury history. It’s been so long since we’ve had homegrown, star-level talent that I think Knicks fans, myself included, got too emotionally attached. I’m the first to admit a bit of clouded judgement, but I have always thought something was worrisome about his injury profile. Even when considered “healthy,” Porzingis never played a full season or shot above 45% from the field. He’s ridiculously skilled, but what good is a star player who isn’t available? A front-court player with recurring lower body injuries is a major red flag for any organization. A cracked cornerstone leads to an unstable foundation.

It’s always bothered me that the “Unicorn” never finished a full season. Richard Gerrafo of Fansided noticed something was up too. He wrote of his concerns, noting that,

“From January of 2016 until February of 2017 (approximately one year and one month), Porzingis suffered six different injuries. He has injured his left Achilles, left groin, left leg, right shoulder, right ankle, and right foot. ”

In his time with the Knicks, Porzingis also had issues with his quadricep (an injury that occurred during his pre-draft workout and again less than a year later), elbow, achilles, and then, of course, a devastating ACL tear.

Scott Perry was well aware of this unfortunate truth. From a purely basketball perspective, Kristaps was too unstable to be a true franchise cornerstone. Not for a maximum contract without injury protections. And as much as people criticize the Knicks for not wanting to offer their resident star player a max contract, it seems they tried to negotiate a contract similar to how other franchises have navigated injury-prone players.

It would have been very “Old Knicks” of Perry to cave under the pressure from the Latvian’s management team, but Scott stood his ground and made a pragmatic move in the best interest of the team. Not only did he refuse to extend KP’s contract last year, he went on record to say his primary goal is “making the Knicks a very good basketball team going into the long term.” He believes in team success over the benefit of any one person and has shown an uncanny ability to think pragmatically about the future.

Team building – real team building, the sustainable kind that we’ve longingly watched from afar from RJ Buford, Pat Riley and Danny Ainge – is a game of chess not checkers. Singular moves must be dissected in the context of a broader strategy.

The news of the Porzingis trade was shocking, yes, but the Knicks’ front office made the right call and the team is set up for future success whether we land a premiere free agent this summer or not.

Yes, Porzingis is gone, but don’t quit on these young New York Knicks. Call me an optimist, but when I look at the current state of affairs in Knickerbocker land – a talented young core, the most open cap space in franchise history and 7 first round draft picks over the next 5 years – I can’t help but notice the upside of so much possibility. Even if the team strikes out on the Kevin Durant/Kawhi/Kyrie sweepstakes this summer, they are under no pressure to sign long-term contracts for anything less than a franchise changing star. There is no rush because our GM has transformed the draft from a desert into a wellspring of possibilities and there will always be another chance to ink a game changer in the future. It’s not a make or break summer when an organization has positioned itself for long-term success through young players and financial flexibility.

Scott Perry is not the inexperienced, short-sighted GM you are looking for. Just the opposite, actually. In just over a year, he has erased years of management failure, properly delegated authority, lifted the weight of bloated contracts and created one of the most talented scouting teams in the league.

I have faith that any future moves are made with one goal in mind – building a championship level roster. As a result of strong leadership, the Knicks go into the summer with an assorted mix of new talent, all the cap space in the world (for this offseason and beyond), no uncertainty about Porzingis, plus the added bonus of seven first round draft picks over the next 5 seasons. SEVEN. More than the last 10 years combined. We finally have picks, money and talented scouts…all at the same time. Recent social media reactions be damned, this regime is intelligent and pragmatic.

The future isn’t guaranteed to anyone, but the Knicks’ front office has done its best to minimize risk while placing the franchise in a position to be master of its own destiny. The change fans have longed for is finally here – if we can manage to see the forest for the trees. Don’t sell low on these Knicks.

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