February 6, 2018 is a day that Kristaps Porzingis will never be able to forget. That day changed everything.
With the New York Knicks trailing by two points early in the second quarter, Porzingis went up for a go-ahead dunk against Milwaukee Bucks superstar and now-league-MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Porzingis finished the slam over Antetokounmpo, but landed awkwardly on his left leg, resulting in a devastating ACL tear that temporarily derailed his young and promising career.
Almost exactly one year later, the Dallas Mavericks and the Knicks executed a blockbuster trade that would seem to change the timelines of both franchises for the foreseeable future. The Mavs became a timely beneficiary, due to the relationship between Porzingis and the Knicks souring for a number of reasons.
Fast-forward to the present, where Porzingis is loving his new situation, having just begun training camp with the Mavs for the first time. In both his own words, and the words of head coach Rick Carlisle, Porzingis is 100-percent healthy again and ready to pick up with his career where he left off before the injury.
"It's going to be different once it's NBA games," said Porzingis. "So I'm excited about that, obviously. I can't even tell you how special that moment will be."
The last time Porzingis played in an NBA game, he was well on his way to becoming an elite two-way player, becoming an All-Star and averaging a career-high 22.7 points per game to go along with 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Porzingis was also shooting a career-high 39.5 percent from deep on nearly five attempts per game. He could fill it up from anywhere on the offensive end, while also being one of the league's best shot-blockers on the defensive end.
When a guy misses as much time as Porzingis has, it's natural for people's last memories of him to be somewhat fuzzy, almost as if it was all a myth. After all, the entire NBA landscape has shifted in a major way since the last time he played, with multiple superstars switching teams and conferences, so there's been a lot of things going on to distract people from Porzingis' comeback. Sure, a lot of national media publications have Porzingis in the mid-to-late 30s of their preseason NBA player rankings, but even those rankings come with a bunch of 'ifs' attached, due to his injury history and extended absence.
Now sporting a new, visibly more muscular 242-pound frame (nearly 20 pounds heavier than when he was drafted in 2015), Porzingis hopes the added weight will not only help him hold his own against bigger players on the court, but also that it will keep him on the court in general by preventing anymore major injuries. The Mavs, having recently invested a fully guaranteed $158 million in their young 'unicorn' big man, will also do everything within their power to make sure Porzingis is doing all the right things when it comes to his diet and workout routines.
"I didn’t want to put on too much weight for a brand new knee," said Porzingis at his Mavs Media Day press conference, "so everything had to be calculated, and at the end we got here. ... For me it was important to feel how I was supposed to feel, but get stronger also. So, it’s a balance always with those kind of things."
Porzingis is itching with excitement for his highly-anticipated Mavs debut, but even though he has already played some pickup games with his new teammates, he admits that things will be a lot different when the real games come around. There is in fact talk of "load management'' once the games begin, though after Tuesday's first camp practice (see "All-Access'' here), coach Rick Carlisle was glowing wit praise about KP's "full'' workout.
Summarized Rick: “It’s Porzingis’ first real practice from start to finish in quite some time. And he did terrific. A very positive first day. Good energy.''
Porzingis poured a lot of time and energy into his individual game over the offseason, which should yield immediate results on the court in and of itself. However, being paired with a young potential superstar like Luka Doncic is another factor that could help elevate Porzingis to the next level.
“I haven’t really (played with) a player like him," said Porzingis when talking about playing alongside Doncic. "So I’m extremely excited, and I can’t wait for us to actually get minutes on the court so we can start creating that bond. ... Just knowing how selfless Luka is in sharing the ball with his teammates and making everybody better, I have no doubt we’ll find that connection sooner or later.”
With all of the bad seemingly being in his rearview mirror, Porzingis is ready to let the good times roll in a city he's already grown to love. And, if healthy, this Mavs team is capable of making a serious playoff push, something that hasn't been the case over the last three seasons. Although Porzingis will never forget the day that changed everything for him, and the temporary pain that came along with it, my guess is that he wouldn't change a thing.
Porzingis is bigger, bolder, and better than he ever has been, and he's ready to re-introduce himself to the league.