Kristaps Porzingis arrived two years ago as a self-proclaimed gym rat looking to turn draft night boos into cheers.
He entered this season looking to go from Rookie of the Year runner-up to an All-Star. Exactly one month into the season, that quick smile was replaced with a glazed-over expression of disillusionment.
“It was a season where I learned a lot,” KP said in his last interview on Wednesday.
That worries me more than anything.
Kristaps Porzingis states his No. 1 goal for the summer and reflects on the Knicks' 2016-17 season.
I said earlier in the season that Porzingis had to be the No. 1 priority for the franchise. When you endure the pain of falling into the lottery, you do everything in your power to ensure that the losing you had to experience was not in vain.
Young players need guidance. They need enrichment. They need encouragement. They need to be empowered while also being accountable. They need a compass.
Phil Jackson’s arrival three years ago was supposed to provide a compass for a franchise that had lost its way. Porzingis was supposed to be in good hands. A stable environment, a system that accentuates his skill set and a culture that develops his character.
Instead, as much as 2015-16 promoted Porzingis into the #GodZingis Unicorn Status among Knicks and NBA fans, this past season could be equally detrimental.
Jackson, in his media address on Friday, said something that seemed to fly under the radar but cannot be ignored when asked about the roster and changes that could be made. He was asked, when approached with trade offers, was something like an offer for Porzingis off the table?
“Everything’s got to be possible,” Jackson said. “And we’ve got to make sure that if people have something to say, we listen to it and we examine it.”
That comment necessitated a follow-up, but it didn’t happen. So instead it was left to hang in the air, up for interpretation and serious concern.
But the news of Porzingis’ absence from the exit interview process — and subsequent “like” of a cryptic Instagram post by Carmelo Anthony, seems to show which side of the Phil vs. Melo battle he’s on.
These issues point to Jackson, whose presence was supposed to provide that Riley-esque stewardship for the franchise. Jackson made reference to Bill Belichick in regards to setting a culture and a standard of play for an organization to where players fit in.
And while that is a very good point of reference and certainly a model to follow, it can’t be done if the star players are not buying into the system.
Porzingis chose to align with Melo, knowing full well that the organization wants to move on without him. Does this mean KP will want out, too?
Melo, as a superstar, is a magnet. Young players are drawn to him. Iman Shumpert. Tim Hardaway Jr. Now KP. (Better keep your eyes on Willy Hernangomez.)
While Melo has the leverage of a no-trade clause, Porzingis has no leverage. The Knicks have him under rookie contract control through at least 2020. But he’s still the franchise’s most important player and therefore deserves to be heard.
The Knicks need to get that gleam back in KP’s eyes. It’s been missing for most of this season and that’s a product of the season and environment he’s been in over the last two years.
Young players need guidance. They need enrichment. They need encouragement. They need to be empowered while also being accountable.
They need a compass. Not a magnet.