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This week in Knicks history: Kristaps Porzingis gets traded

As it turns out, Unicorns aren’t real

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks
The Mavs wouldn’t have a single win this year if their games against the Knicks were the only ones that counted in the standings.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks landed a potential franchise cornerstone by selecting Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but 365 days ago this week the team shipped him out of town to maximize cap space and restart the rebuild. One year later, things are about as bleak as they’ve ever been.

Heading into the final day of January 2019, the Knicks were in the midst of an 11-game losing streak, and at 10-40 overall had firmly entrenched themselves as one of the absolute worst teams in the NBA. They were very bad, but a high draft pick was in the bag, and the Knicks had played the entire season without Porzingis, who was off in the shadows rehabbing his repaired ACL. The big NBA story was that Anthony Davis had requested a trade, and the Knicks were reportedly one of the teams in the running.

Around 3 p.m., suddenly and without warning, the Woj bombs began. The damage they inflicted was immediate and intense. Porzingis, who’d posted 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 48 games before tearing his ACL the previous season, had met with Knicks brass and expressed some concerns. He wanted to play for a winner in New York, but sought clarity on his future role and the direction the franchise was going.

He… “left the Knicks with the impression that he prefers to be traded.” The Knicks are expected to commence discussions on moving him ahead of next Thursday’s deadline.

By 4 pm, the Knicks had agreed to send the Dallas Mavericks a Porzingis-led package that also included Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. In return, the Knicks received Dennis Smith Jr., along with Wesley Matthews and DeAndre Jordan, plus two future first round picks. Benefits of the deal included the acquisition of a Smith Jr. as opposed to a J.R. Smith, a heaping collection of cap space, and the reanimation of a retired blogger.

The haul wasn’t the worst, but it represented the end of an era that hadn’t even been given the chance to begin. Before his injury, Porzingis was unstoppable. Not all the time, but when he was feeling it there was no defender who could slow him; his physical attributes literally made it close to impossible. Anyone paying attention during the early part of the 2017-18 season could see that Porzingis was a foundational piece who, if paired with the proper players and kept healthy, could be part of a championship roster.

In early February 2017, Porzingis tore his ACL playing against the Milwaukee Bucks. In the aftermath of the injury, the relationship between Porzingis and the front office apparently deteriorated to a degree so damaging that the Knicks ultimately decided to kick him to the curb in order to start anew. Porzingis, who in the immediate aftermath of the trade told fans to stay woke, still hasn’t told his side of the story, while the Knicks have taken every opportunity to tell the world that the Latvian simply didn’t want to play for New York anymore.

The campaign to convince fans that KP was the problem seems to have mostly worked, although if you believe this December 2019 story from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Knicks were already shopping Porzingis before he made his trade request.

Porzingis and his brother, Janis, who serves as his agent, had planned to meet with management to discuss his future in January. Once the Porzingis brothers found out that the Knicks were discussing a trade with the Dallas Mavericks, sources said, they hurried a meeting the next morning and asked to be moved to one of four destinations: the Nets, Clippers, Raptors or Heat.

Psh. Good riddance, right? He didn’t want to be here, or whatever. It’s good that the Knicks traded him for a couple first round draft picks and DSJ, who has performed poorly across the board since coming to New York and has deflated his trade value to a stunning degree.

The Porzingis trade changed the course of Knicks history. Instead of being the mythical beast who swooped in to salvage the wreckage that was left in the wake of the power struggle between Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis was a blip that disappeared from the team’s radar in the blink of an eye, only to reappear in Dallas, where he has the chance to become Super Dirk alongside MVP candidate Luka Doncic.

At the time of the trade, rumor had it that in the summer of 2019 a couple of superstars were planning to join the Knicks. They signed with the Brooklyn Nets the second free agency started.

In the aftermath of the Porzingis trade, there were, and still are, many unanswered questions. Some surely still believe it was in the best interests of the franchise to get rid of the former Knicks lottery selection. To be fair, he’s missed 11 games this year, which has been par for the course throughout his young career, and he isn’t producing at the All-Star levels he showed prior to tearing his ACL.

In 36 games, Porzingis is averaging about 17 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, while shooting just under 40 percent from the field and only 34 percent from deep. Those first three figures would be good for third, second and first if he was on the Knicks (Marcus Morris and Julius Randle are both averaging over 19 points a game, Randle is at 9.3 rebounds per game, and Mitchell Robinson is just behind Porzingis in blocks with 1.9 to KP’s 2.0).

Whether Porzingis will be able to lead a healthy career is still unknown, and for a lot of fans that question alone means the trade was merited. As for the Knicks, their change in direction has led to a disastrous season that has included a coaching change, a lack of minutes for young players like Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, and a new controversy thanks to a shove from Elfrid Payton and some unwise words from Morris. As has been the case for some time now, fans would be pleased if James Dolan sold the team.

The Knicks are 13-36, which is a few games better than they were at this time last season, but still very bad. Of course, last year everyone was all in on the tank, since the idea was that we were waiting to add a healthy Porzingis, along with free agents, to the collection of youngsters that had been compiled. The best moments of the season this year for the Knicks have been beating KP and the Mavericks both times they faced off. Revenge is a dish best served while you’re many games under .500.

Maybe a year ago this week the universe was teetering on its axis, and the only way to save humanity was putting things back in their proper place. The Knicks needed to go back to being the Knicks. Everyone appreciates a sacrificial lamb, and once it’s dead you can even cook up the carcass as part of a delicious stew. Dinner is served.