Kristaps Porzingis ready to attack ACL injury rehab, while Knicks must alter plans

ByIan Begley ESPN logo
Thursday, February 8, 2018

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York KnicksAll-Star Kristaps Porzingis said late Tuesday night he's ready to tackle the lengthy rehab ahead in the wake of his season-ending ACL tear.

"He was down when he first got the news, but then he instantly switched to, 'I've got to take on this new journey. I'm ready for it,'" teammate Courtney Lee said after speaking to Porzingis late on Tuesday.

Porzingis suffered the ACL tear in his left knee on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks when he landed awkwardly after converting a dunk. He will have surgery to repair the injury in the coming days, though it hasn't yet been scheduled. Porzingis is expected to be sidelined for at least 10 months after surgery.

"Very tough news to swallow. A tough day for the organization. Tough day for the young man," Knicks general manager Scott Perry said on Wednesday. "You think of the young person first.

"It's not going to deter us from what we're trying to accomplish when we got here. Our job is to get this team in better position for when he returns to the court so he returns to a group more cohesive, stronger and hopefully a little more talented.''

The Porzingis injury will impact how the Knicks approach the trade deadline. Before the injury, the Knicks had hoped to make a run at one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. With that goal no longer attainable, New York has shifted its focus to the 2018 NBA draft and the future. The Knicks, according to sources, are more aggressively pursuing young players and draft picks ahead of Thursday's trade deadline.

New York traded disgruntled center Willy Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday in exchange for two future second-round picks andJohnny O'Bryant III, who will be waived. The Knicks also have taken calls on veterans Lee andKyle O'Quinn, according to sources. The club additionally hopes to trade exiled center Joakim Noah before Thursday afternoon's deadline.

Following the deadline, New York plans to play younger athletes such as Frank Ntilikina and guard Trey Burke more often, sources said. Perry hinted at as much during a news conference on Thursday when he said, "There's going to be an opportunity for a lot of the young players to get out there and show what they can do."

The Porzingis injury, of course, is devastating on several levels for New York: It robs Porzingis of time to develop as the No. 1 option in an NBA offense and prevents him from spending another summer gaining strength and working on other aspects of his game.

But there are some small silver linings in the wake of in the injury, including the possibility that the Knicks end up with a higher pick in the 2018 NBA draft.

The Knicks hopes to pair an elite college prospect in the 2018 draft alongside Porzingis, Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Assuming Porzingis returns to the court during the 2018-19 season, the Knicks hope that core can attract free agents in the summer of 2019, when New York projects to have significant cap space and another first-round draft pick.

The rehab processcertainly will be grueling for the 22-year-old Porzingis. But Perry believes that the club's medical staff can help Porzingis return to his pre-injury form. Perry and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek expressed confidence on Wednesday that Porzingis will return to full strength.

"Obviously, he was devastated that he has that injury. So are we," Hornacek said. "... [But] he'll be back as strong as ever. We know he's a hard worker. We know that he wants to become a great player, a top player in this league."

Perry added his take.

"We know that he's going to attack his rehab and post-surgery in the way that he prepares himself as a player," Perry said. "And we're going to be here to support him every step of the way."

One issue that is unsettled in the wake of Porzingis' injury is the Knicks' plans to offer him a rookie extension. This summer, Porzingis will be eligible for a five-year, $157 million extension, with a starting salary of $27 million. If New York decided to wait and offer Porzingis an extension in the summer of 2019, it would create an additional $10 million in cap space for the club that summer.

The club had been comfortable with the idea of offering Porzingis an extension this summer. It is unclear if or how Porzingis' injury impacts the Knicks' thinking.

Perry declined to comment on the extension when asked about it Wednesday.

"We hadn't talked about that prior to this injury and we won't get into that now about him," Perry said. "He is obviously a very important member of this basketball team and this organization and part of this New York community. And we'll deal with at that appropriate time."

In addition to decisions about trades, draft picks and Porzingis' extension, Perry and team president Steve Mills will evaluate Hornacek at the end of the season. When asked about it on Wednesday, Perry said he had no plans to make a coaching change in-season.

"We're evaluating the entire season," Perry said. "Jeff and his group are working really hard with this basketball team and doing the very best they can, and obviously this is an adversity for them to deal with KP being out, but I'm confident that they'll be able to do a good job of keeping this team playing hard and playing together. That's what we'll be looking at moving forward."

Related Video