Knicks hopes on hold after Kristaps Porzingis tears ACL
By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Without Kristaps Porzingis, there’s no reason for the New York Knicks to be thinking about the postseason.
It’s time to look to their future.
That’s all that’s left after Porzingis was lost to a torn ACL, ending his All-Star season and probably any hopes the Knicks had of making the playoffs.
They say they’ll keep playing hard, but the first trade they made after Porzingis’ injury showed they aren’t loading up for a playoff push.
“Look, we want to compete every night,” general manager Scott Perry said Wednesday. “We want to continue to fight.”
Porzingis had hoped they would fight all the way to the playoffs for the first time in his career. But those plans were derailed when Porzingis crashed to the court, punching the floor in pain after a dunk in the second quarter of a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night.
An MRI revealed a torn left ACL, an injury that will sideline Porzingis for the rest of this season and perhaps a good deal of the next.
“Obviously he was devastated that he has that injury and so are we,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It’s a tough thing to have happened. He’s had such a great year and we’re trying to grow with him.”
Disappointment could be felt not only in New York but around the NBA. Porzingis is a popular player for his wide array of skills at 7-foot-3 that led Kevin Durant to nickname him a “unicorn,” but also for the personality he brought to New York when he arrived in 2015 as a teenager from Latvia.
“Was hoping for the best news when I saw the play after the game,” LeBron James wrote on Twitter . “Best wishes and have a speedy healthy recovery.”
Porzingis was set to play on James’ team next week when he made his debut as an All-Star, and he was also set to defend his title in the Skills Challenge. He hoped to return from Los Angeles to a playoff race after not coming close in his first two seasons.
New York was already facing a tough climb from 11th place in the Eastern Conference, and that would have been difficult even with Porzingis carrying them.
The Knicks probably would have needed to find some help by Thursday’s trade deadline, and perhaps they would have tried given Porzingis’ stated desire for a playoff push. But now they are better off playing for the lottery than the playoffs, and any moves they make would likely be with that in mind.
That appeared to be the case Wednesday when they sent Willy Hernangomez, voted to the All-Rookie first team last season, to Charlotte. The Knicks got back a pair of second-round picks along with forward Johnny O’Bryant, who Perry said would be waived.
“We were without second-round picks,” Perry said, “and we value first-round picks and second-round picks, but we were without picks in 2020 and 2021. So this deal allowed us to do that.”
For now, the Knicks will likely give more time to rookie guard Frank Ntilikina, and Perry and Hornacek said players from the team’s G League affiliate could get opportunities.
Porzingis had at least given New York reason to entertain playoff hopes in a season that started days after Carmelo Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City. Even the Knicks didn’t know if Porzingis was ready to flourish in the No. 1 role at 22.
But he wanted the challenge and has been up for it, averaging 22.7 points and a league-leading 2.4 blocked shots per game.
The only thing he couldn’t really do is put to rest injury concerns that often follow players at his age and size. He had missed at least 10 games in each of his first two seasons and will finish with only 48 games played in this one.
He had come back stronger this season in hopes of becoming more durable and better handling the pounding in the post.
Now he will have to work even harder to come back from a serious injury.
“He is a competitor, man. That’s one thing he wants to do, get the journey started right away,” teammate Courtney Lee said. “So I think he is mentally strong and he is mentally ready to switch his focus from playing and helping us make the playoffs to now rehabbing and getting back 100 percent and helping us when he gets back.”
Well-wishers around the league think he will.
“Setback for a major comeback!” the National Basketball Players Association tweeted, with a photo of Porzingis.
Freelance writer Adry Torres in Greenburgh, New York contributed to this report.
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