As the New York Knicks appear to turn a corner, not everything on the horizon will be smooth sailing.
The Knicks fired Phil Jackson shortly before free agency, hired Scott Perry as their new GM, and are working on trading Carmelo Anthony to begin a rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis.
However, in rebuilding around Porzingis, they also need to repair a fractured relationship that was worsened as Jackson dangled him in trade offers near the draft.
Of course, the Knicks held onto Porzingis, but the firing of Jackson hasn’t completely healed the wounds. On the podcast “The Lowe Post” ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Ian Begley and Howard Beck of Bleacher Report discussed how the Knicks are now on the clock to make things right with Porzingis before facing a potential nightmare scenario. Begley explained:
“Biggest storyline going forward, for me, is how things get patched up or don’t get patched up with Kristaps Porzingis and the organization. I think that if things don’t change, and – forget about Phil for a second, because his relationship with Phil was by and large fine, it was just how things were being run underneath Phil that he had issues with. People underneath Phil were causing problems and a lot of those people are still here, so there are issues to be resolved there with Kristaps.
“I think, this is a guess, call it an educated guess, if things don’t get resolved there, I think he could leave a ton of money on the table and walk as a free agent. Do what Greg Monroe did, walk as an unrestricted free agent.”
Begley was referencing Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe, who in 2014, took the qualifying offer in restricted free agency, played on a one-year deal, then hit unrestricted free agency the next summer to determine where he would play next. The move is pretty rare and somewhat of a gamble for players. As a restricted free agent, they have the chance to field the first big contracts of their careers. Playing on the one-year qualifying offer could come back to haunt players if they play poorly or get hurt that year, thus reducing their market the next offseason.
However, Begley’s educated guess follows what Porzingis’ older brother Janis told Begley when Kristaps was involved in trade rumors. Janis said Kristaps will control his destiny wherever he plays.
“Despite how the Knicks are treating their players, Kris wants to stay in New York,” Janis Porzingis said. “He loves the city and he loves the fans and he wants to win with this team. If he’s going to be traded, he’s going to play out his contact and decide his future on his own.“
As the three insiders noted during the podcast, Porzingis’ problems with the franchise extended beyond Jackson. When the 2016-17 season concluded, Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, a clear statement about his displeasure with the dysfunction of the franchise. According to Begley and Beck, many of the people below Jackson believed to be creating some dysfunction are still with the organization.
Losing Porzingis would be a devastating blow for a team without direction. In two years, Porzingis has proven to be a star – a 7-foot-3 big man capable of protecting the rim, spreading the floor, and creating his own shot. His ceiling is unknown, but he appears to be a foundational player worth building around. If there’s a worse move for the Knicks than trading him, it would be losing him for nothing.
The Knicks have two years before Porzingis will be up for the qualifying offer, and from the sounds of it, they’re now on the clock to make the much-needed culture to please their star.