Barring something extremely unlikely, Kristaps Porzingis will play more games against the New York Knicks before his career is over. As such, this last week is not the last time we’ll hear about the drama that proceeded his exit and the subsequent trade that sent him to Dallas.
But a funny thing happens to NBA narratives over time: they get warped and distorted, like a wood floor that’s seen one too many leaks. Eventually, if you put some pressure on it, the original truth will break into fragments…convenient bits of fact and fiction mixed and matched at the teller’s whim.
So before we get to that point, I thought now that the fiasco of KP is over for the year, I’d settle some things once and for all.
Fact: The Knicks traded KP for cap space.
Let’s just own it, ok?
Dennis Smith Jr. might yet be an impactful player in this league. Not having to watch Tim Hardaway Jr. hit less than four of every ten shots is great, and not having to pay him for the privilege is even better. The Dallas pick next year is a wonderful lottery ticket, and the protected one coming later can’t hurt either. Flexibility is a wonderful thing.
But the Knicks made their bet on cap space bringing two stars, and they lost that bet. Even if Porzingis joins a monastery tomorrow (calm your snickering, you filthy-minded ingrates) and gives up basketball forever, it doesn’t change the fact that the return they got for him wasn’t what they had in mind at the time of the deal.
It’s also a bet they had to make, for a dozen reasons that appear below, but mostly because the KD smoke was billowing, as much as some might want to ignore that fact now.
That also doesn’t mean everything about this story should be taken at face value, starting with….
Fiction: KP was going to sign his qualifying offer.
Kristaps Porzingis actually signing his QO was about as likely as you or me coaching the Knicks next year (Fiz, if you’re reading this, sadly this goes for you too). He would never have been that stupid.
Instead he would have found some team to give him a 2 + 1 deal that the Knicks would have matched, and the clock would have been ticking on his eventual exit the moment the ink was dry on that contract.
Fiction: The Knicks were right to trade KP because he asked to leave.
Trading someone because they want out, in a vacuum, is insane. Alas, the Knicks do not operate in a vacuum. More on this in a bit.
Fact: The Knicks brass could have done more to get KP on board with the program moving forward.
Whether it was opening the door to his trainer, hiring his brother, or looking the other way at his diva tendancies, if the Knicks wanted to accomodate Kristaps Porzingis, even ever so slightly, they could have done so.
Fact: The Knicks were right not to accomodate KP.
Stars have gotten special treatment from organizations in this league since the dawn of time. It’s how the NBA works. Championships have been won under such circumstances. The selfless, all-for-one Timmy-led Spurs dynasty is the exception, not the rule.
But if you’re going to turn your organization over to a star, you better have the proper bedrock in place to withstand the aftershocks. And the Knicks, as you may have heard, have been busy peeing in the cement mixer for going on two decades now. If you’re drunk and down $200 at the blackjack table, you don’t walk to the ATM, sit back down and then order a double.
Which leads me to…
Fiction: KP is a snake for wanting out.
It would take a leap of faith for anyone to entrust their career to a team that has shown the same troubling signs for so long. By the same token…
Fact: KP deserves every bit of blame from Knick fans for not wanting to take on the challenge of changing things.
The Warriors were a dumpster fire of epic proportions when Steph Curry arrived. Ditto for Dirk and the Mavs, who arrived almost two full years before Marc Cuban bought the team.
There exists a world where Porzingis set the example for how things were going to go in the Knicks organization from now on, especially after James Dolan took KP’s side in his fued with Phil Jackson by firing the latter after he contemplated trading the former.
Instead, he retained his healthy skepticism and became more, not less, isolated as time went on. Not to dip into LeBron-ese, but he always preferred fitting out to fitting in. As was his prerogative, but still.
Of course, that doesn’t make it any better that…
Fact: The post-trade smear campaign by the Knicks was a little dirty.
…which is why when he was asked if he thought the fans’ booing was unfair, KP replied that “It’s what they know. It’s what they heard.”
Fiction: It wasn’t about the money.
Much of the bullshit before the trade would have been quashed with a fully-guaranteed five year max. When in doubt, follow the money. That said…
Fact: The Knicks were as right not to offer him the full five-year max as Dallas was to give it to him.
In Big-D, KP gets to be a number two, for which he’s far better suited. They’ve never signed a big free agent, and wagering on KP, injury risk and all, was a bet they had to make. It was, without question, their best path toward maximizing Luka Doncic, who might be a top-five player right the hell now.
The spotlight in Dallas is also about a tenth as bright as it is in New York, where Porzingis would have always been “the guy,” regardless of who else the Knicks signed. New York was also, as referenced earlier, badly in need of a culture reboot, and signing a guy whose attitude, however justified, was emblematic of the need for said reboot would have been defeatist.
Would KP have magically become Mr. Knick had New York opened up the checkbook? Maybe, but the injury risk remained all the same. That’s two risks. A third came in the form of whether blocking themselves from a second max slot would have helped or hindered their free agent pursuits (which, remember, were not the pipe dream they’ve been made out to be in retrospect)
Oh, and there’s one more thing…
BIG FACTS: There is a rape charge still pending.
If I had a dollar for every time that charge was mentioned in all the pieces that were written and soundbites that were generated about KP and the Knicks over the last week, I’d have…enough to buy a cup of coffee. Maybe not a latte though. They’re expensive.
Point is, if you think this story would have been glossed over like it has been with KP in Texas, guess again. For an organization that can’t afford any other off the court distractions, this absolutely would have been a massive one.
Even with this as a very real, very unresolved thing…
Fiction: KP sucks.
The reality is that KP is a freak of nature, and if he stays healthy, will be a top 15 player for years to come.
His current on/off numbers have some validity to them, but Doncic is too gifted and Carlisle too smart not to figure out how to better incorporate Porzingis into the fold.
Porzingis has very, very real holes in his game. He has 16 assists in 10 games this season. He either has no passing vision or no desire to execute that vision. Neither is reassuring. He also still gets bodied down low, and for all those summer juicer pics we saw, 9.3 boards per 36 at 7’3″ just ain’t cuttin’ it.
He’s also the only human alive with that smooth a jumper who is literally unguardable from up to 35 feet out. He will play center when it matters most, and once the Mavs get sufficient shooters around he and Luka, their offense will be unstoppable. It’s going to be disgusting.
Even with this being the case…
Fact: The Knicks are better off without KP and KP is better off without the Knicks.
You won’t find many people arguing against the second part of that, although Porzingis seems to fancy himself as a leading man, and I wonder how he’ll deal with being a very clear number two to a guy who’s about to become the darling of the NBA for the next decade, if he isn’t already.
As for the first part, it’s so easy to look at the Knicks current roster, replace Julius Randle and insert-veteran-free-agent-here with KP, and project the magic that might have played out. KP, Mitch, Knox, RJ and Frank has a nice ring to it, after all.
But even if we could go back in time, ignore the virtual certainty that was “KD & Friend” swirling around the league last January, and have the foresight to project a summer stocking filled with coal for the Knicks, retaining KP at all costs would have been the ultimate in sticking with the devil you know.
Even if he did put on a happy face, even if he did stay healthy, even if he did grow his game to become a true number one, and even if he did play up to his contract, the distinct possibility remained that he was never going to buy in fully to this organization, and if your best player isn’t fully bought in, you’re toast.
And now for the most obvious retort of all time: well, given the tomfoolery we just saw last week, wouldn’t his lack of buy in be completely and totally justified?
Yes. Yes it would be. But with him here, on a max, there would have been no chance of things improving. The way things stand now, other than some promising young players, no part of this organization is locked in past this season (with the exception of Randle, who despite his struggles, will be eminently tradable with this July’s dearth of impact free agents)
The Knicks needed an overhaul. Thus far, it seems like that gut renovation may not have been extensive enough, and maybe bigger moves are in the offing. Either way, this regime will have to figure it out or perish. As Ian Begley already reported, no one, including Steve Mills, is safe.
If and when the dust settles, they will likely have less talent on the roster than if KP had not been dealt. But with this organization perhaps more than any other, it’s never just about the talent.
And who knows…as we saw last night and last Friday, when the team with the two most talented guys lost both times, maybe, just maybe, the Knicks will be on the right path sooner than we think. They need to get out of their own way first. At least now, they get to try and do that with a clean slate, with a group of guys who by all accounts are still fully bought in.
In the end, trading KP was unequivocally the right move at the time, but by not getting stars this summer, that trade undoubtedly represented a step backwards for the franchise.
Now it’s up to them to take two steps forward.