By Grant Hill
For those fans paying close attention, you might have noticed a troubling sign for the New York Knicks. No, I’m not talking about the circus act that has been the Carmelo Anthony trade saga. I’m also not talking about the fact that this team can’t play a lick of defense or win any meaningful games. No, the cause for concern revolves around the team’s rising star Kristaps Porziginis.
Prior to a 2016 matchup with the New York Knicks, former Thunders star Kevin Durant referred to the young Porzingis as a “unicorn” when questioned about what he thought of the rookie. “He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line. That’s rare. And block shots—that’s like a unicorn in this league,” Durant said in an interview with ESPN.
It’s clear that the Knicks have something special in the Latvia native. However, the organization has made decisions and created an environment that could have damaging effects on a player that many considered to be the cornerstone of the team’s future.
When Phil Jackson was hired to be the Knicks’ team president in 2014, many believed that he would bring a winning attitude and culture to a team that had been the laughing stock of the NBA for the last 20 years. Three years into his five-year contract, it’s clear things have not panned out the way everyone thought they would. Nothing has changed since Jackson took over the job, and the team has continued its losing ways. Bringing Porzingis into a losing culture is dangerous, especially at his young age, because it will teach him the one thing you don’t want him to learn: how to lose.
Along with the continued losing, the Knicks have also not been able to keep drama away. Most recently, Jackson and Anthony have been butting heads, making headlines and creating a black cloud around the team. It’s clear Jackson does not want Anthony on the team anymore, and it has gotten rather ugly while Jackson has actively been looking to trade the nine-time All-star. This sets a bad example for Porzingis because it shows him that the organization will throw even its biggest stars under the bus if the situation calls for it. Anthony and Porzingis have had a good relationship thus far, so it must be tough to watch how his friend and mentor has been treated by those running the organization. He also must be realizing that they could one day turn on him.
The current roster that has been assembled around Porzingis is also troublesome for his development. Though he still has been able to put up impressive numbers, Porzingis has found himself as being the odd man out on several occasions. This is mainly because he plays alongside two stars: Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, who have been known throughout their careers for being ball dominant players. Constantly, we see Anthony and Rose attempt to play hero ball throughout games, where the two of them switch off shooting while guys like Porzingis stand and watch. If the Knicks want to see Porzingis develop into the star they want him to be, he is going to need players that will get him the shots he should be taking, which Anthony and Rose clearly have trouble doing.
As Durant said, the Knicks have a rare talent on their hands. They must figure out how to turn the page and stabilize the franchise so that Porzingis can blossom into the player were all hoping he will become.