- Just when the Knicks looked like they were starting to develop an identity, Porzingis is lost for the season. What does that mean for New York's premier franchise?
A Knicks season that started with promise more or less ended with anguish Tuesday night, as All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL against the Bucks. It may be hard to remember now, but the Knicks were briefly one of the NBA’s best stories for much of October and November. Porzingis was playing like an MVP candidate, Tim Hardaway Jr. was making this SI writer look like an idiot and the team appeared to have cleansed itself of Phil Jackson’s stench. But a winter swoon soon started, and now the Knicks look more like the punchline they’ve been for much of this millennium, only this time, it’s more sad than funny.
Porzingis’s career has long been hamstrung by the dysfunction around him. Carmelo Anthony jacking up shots. Kurt Rambis stunting his development. Jackson floating him in trade rumors. At the start of this season, Porzingis finally became the franchise’s focal point and he delivered with an MVP-caliber stretch that had most believing the Knicks were finally ready to move in a healthy direction. Then injuries zapped New York’s energy, the burden began to wear on Porzingis and the lack of depth resulted in a loss-filled reality check.
The injury is now a fairly serious setback for someone who was finally getting to put his stamp on the franchise. It’s hard to properly gauge how the injury could affect Porzingis’s future—and it would definitely be reckless to speculate. Hopefully, Porzingis will join the mass of NBA players for whom ACL tears weren’t career changers and he avoids the pitfalls of former seven-footers who dealt with knee injuries.
The Knicks aren’t at a complete loss for the long-term because of the Porzingis injury. A full-on tank will be good for the future, and could even bring in some starry young talent to pair with Porzingis as soon as next season—presuming KP returns fully healthy. But the injury does reset New York’s clock in a sense. Instead of building momentum off a positive individual season, the Knicks will head into another summer nervous about Porzingis’s level of satisfaction. Could his level of frustration eventually push him out the door? I don’t want to make this injury about Porzingis leaving the Knicks, but as we’ve seen with Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio, these situations are delicate—and New York’s front office isn’t exactly known for its tact.
Even if this season didn’t end with a surprise playoff berth as the first few weeks suggested it could have, this still could have been a transformational year for the Knicks. 2018 should have signaled a changing of the guard, a surefire sign that Porzingis would be the organization’s top dog for the foreseeable future. KP is still the star in New York, but instead of having a year as the go-to guy under his belt, he’ll have to rebuild those bona fides after a serious knee injury. This is now a completely useless season for the Knicks, whose future is clouded with some questionable contracts and an over-reliance on veterans.
It will feel like the sky is falling in New York. The seemingly only positive aspect of the entire franchise will have his season’s enduring image be one of him down on the court clutching his knee in pain. But there’s no reason to believe Porzingis won’t make a full recovery, and the Knicks were always a couple big drafts away from putting together a perennial playoff team. Still, what should have been Porzingis’s year to take full control of what was happening on the court will instead end in all-too-familiar disappointment. The Knicks’ season is now undoubtedly lost, and the injury will leave Porzingis to prove all over again he’s capable of carrying New York out of its years-long doldrums.