Carmelo Anthony smiles widely when he talks about Kristaps Porzingis. If you’ve known Melo long enough, you know he has tossed praise around to different players, but rare is it with the enthusiasm he shows when the discussion turns to “KP.” Perhaps it’s because, in Porzingis, Melo sees a lot of himself. The appreciation grew quickly through a tumultuous summer that began with public criticism of the Knicks decision to take the 7-foot Latvian teenager with the fourth pick in the draft.
And there was also the subsequent source-based reports that Melo wasn’t happy with it.
“It seems like none of this stuff fazes him,” Melo told me. “And I like that. He has a little chip on his shoulder.”
For instance, during a recent workout, Melo said he and others were teasing Porzingis about comments made by team president Phil Jackson in an ESPN.com series, “Phil Files,” written by Charley Rosen, in which Jackson makes a parallel between Porzingis and another rail-thin former lottery pick, Shawn Bradley.
Rather than get flustered or upset by that and other concerns Jackson had — which included a thought that Porzingis may be “too tall” for the NBA — Melo said he was impressed with how the rookie didn’t flinch.
“I laughed at it,” Porzingis told him.
Internally, much of what was reported about Melo was laughable. It started with him reportedly being upset about the Porzingis pick and wanting to be traded. It went on into free agency, where he was reportedly upset about not landing big name players, such as LaMarcus Aldridge, and wanting to be traded.
“It was funny at first,” Melo told me of the relentless headlines. “Then it became overwhelming. Every day, there was another trade rumor . . . I wanted to get traded.”
The smile then left his face for a moment and he wore an expression of frustration.
“Come on,” he said. “I don’t want to be traded.”
He took to social media over the summer to respond to fans regarding the rumors.
“It was like, enough is enough,” he explained.
Melo admitted now that it wasn’t his first mistake. The first mistake was allowing the rumors to spread like a brush fire in a summer where NBA writers are hungry for topics.
“It was my fault,” he said. “I let it go and go and go without saying nothing.”
So who are these sources, anyway? Why would he allow others to speak for him?
“The offseason is my season, that’s my offseason,” he said. “People and media feel they can’t contact me in the offseason, so they feel they’ve got to make all these speculations. They have to report on all these sources.”
While media and fans volleyed the story all summer, Melo focused only on clearing the air with the front office. He spoke directly with Phil Jackson, Steve Mills and Derek Fisher. He then reached out to Porzingis and the two became fast friends. He invited the rookie to join him in Puerto Rico in August when Melo does his annual charity weekend there. Several other Knicks teammates made the trip, as well.
Melo and Porzingis have also spent a lot of court time at Terminal 23, an exclusive basketball gym run by Jordan Brand in midtown Manhattan. This is significant because, throughout his career, Melo wasn’t known to spend a great deal of time with teammates (aside from travel buddies JR Smith and Iman Shumpert), especially in the offseason. But this summer, KP has been his running mate.
“I guess he likes to play with me,” Porzingis said. “He calls me all of the time and says, ‘Let’s go, me and you, me and you.'”
So, what’s Melo like?
“He’s a great passer,” Porzingis said.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Just for me playing with him . . . We play 5-on-5 and he always finds me. He just finds me. You know, he draws so much attention and he always finds me when I’m open.”
Melo told reporters at Knicks Media Day that he looked forward to playing a “big brother” role to Porzingis. And while the rookie could certainly learn a lot from an all-star, it seems Melo might benefit just as much from this relationship. Heading into his sixth full season with the Knicks, nothing should faze him, either.
“There’s no better place to be at and win than in New York,” he said. He then added with a chuckle, “And there’s no worse place to be at when you lose than New York. I’ve come to grips with that and I accept that. I know how to deal with that.