TORONTO: It only took four months for the New York Knicks’ Latvian wunderkind, Kristaps Porzingis, to experience nearly every side of the NBA.
From November through mid-January, he sparked the kind of hype that most players go their entire careers without knowing. The Knicks’ winning ways then played a big part, too, as they looked like playoff contenders — until the bottom fell out.
Yet in the past few weeks, the hype has turned to basketball hell as the Knicks – losers of 10 of their past 11 and 23-32 overall – fired coach Derek Fisher on Monday and now find themselves trying to recapture that magical mediocrity that had given team president Phil Jackson such a spike in approval rating.
But Porzingis earned a welcome reprieve from the roller coaster ride at All-Star weekend in Toronto, where he arrived on Thursday and was more than happy to get caught up in the annual chaos of the league’s largest event. While he’s not an All-Star just yet, Porzingis will compete as a member of the “World” team in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday.
“You’ve got to be ready for anything (in the NBA),” Porzingis, who is third among rookies in scoring (13.9 points per game) and second in rebounds (7.7 per), told USA TODAY Sports. “The ups and downs … it’s very tough. But I think as a young player you’ve got to stay strong mentally and not let it get to your head. Prepare for every game the same way, and be ready to go out there and play your game. I just want to go out there with the other internationals (on Friday) and hopefully win the game and enjoy it.”
If there is a silver lining about the Knicks’ most recent downturn, it’s that Porzingis has long since established a good rapport with new coach Kurt Rambis. The former Minnesota Timberwolves head coach was promoted from his job as Knicks assistant after the Fisher firing, and Porzingis appears to be just fine with the change.
“We have a great relationship,” he said. “He’s a great coach. He will definitely help me grow as a player, and he has been helping me grow as a player. I’m looking forward to the next step. I learned a lot from Derek Fisher. I’ve got to thank him for the opportunity, for everything. But now we’re moving forward and we’ve got to make the next step.
“It’s (Rambis’) experience. He knows basketball, obviously. He knows what a young player needs. He’s not a coach that will only tell you the good things. He will tell you whatever is on his mind and whatever it is he feels you need to get better at. That’s what’s great about him.”