Should Knicks reunite with Kristaps Porzingis?

Kristaps Porzingis could come back to the Knicks
Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis, second from left, attempts to block Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in New York.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Could the Knicks be headed for a reunion with former lottery pick Kristaps Porzingis? If a subset of fans have their way, then yes. 

Earlier this week, I appeared on an episode of KnicksFanTV (which you can watch in full here). When the discussion turned to what the Knicks should do this offseason, the comment section was flooded with fans who supported the idea of the team reuniting with their 2015 4th overall pick. 

It’s a reunion that Steve Popper of Newsday also supports. In an article, he promoted the idea of not trading for the superstars this offseason but adding lower-priced options like Porzingis instead.

“New front office, new coach, no ties to the hopes and dreams that he once carried in New York, and the bridges burned on both sides. What you see now is a possible replacement for Mitchell Robinson in the middle that would provide outside shooting and clear the lane for Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle.”

Porzingis’ time with the Knicks was filled with ups and downs. 

After being drafted fourth overall by the Knicks in 2015, Porzingis was immediately booed by fans at the NBA Draft. He then scored 14.3 points per game as a rookie adapting to the NBA, chipping in 7.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.3 assists. By his third season, he was selected to the NBA All-Star Game.

However, just a month after that game, Porzingis tore his ACL and would never play for the Knicks again. Well, maybe never again.

He was traded on January 31st, 2019 along with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Courtney Lee to the Mavericks for DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr., 2021 first-round draft pick, 2023 first-round draft pick (top-10 protected).
By receiving two players on expiring contracts in Jordan and Matthews, the Knicks were hoping to free up enough money to pursue free agents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard. In the end, they wound up signing Julius Randle that offseason and the 2021 first-round pick was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for the 25th pick in the same draft, where the Knicks then landed Quentin Grimes. 
Kristaps Porzingis on the Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis on the Knicks (wikimedia commons)
While Porzingis’ time in Dallas was filled with ups and downs and rumored clashes with star Luca Doncic, the 27-year-old just put up his best NBA season yet in 65 games, with the Washington Wizards. He averaged a career-best 23.2 points, while also adding 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 blocks on 49.8% shooting with a 56.5% effective field goal percentage and 39% three-point shooting percentage. 
The Latvian center has a $36 million player option with the Washington Wizards, which he can decline and can extend up to a maximum of $180 million over four years, something that The Athletic reported was likely back in March.  However, since then, Washington fired general manager Tommy Sheppard and Porzingis’ future is up in the air. 
Would he even be willing to come back to play in New York?

Ahead of New York’s game in Washington earlier this year, NBA.com posted an interview between writer Mark Medina and Porzingis, where the center reflected back on his time in New York by saying,

“Could I go back and do things differently? For sure. From our side, I was hurt. If I kept playing, it would’ve been completely different. I’m young and listening to people and what they’re telling me what I should do with my career. You don’t know any better. That’s how things went at that time. I can only say really good things about the organization because I enjoyed it so much playing there in New York and playing in front of those fans.”

But even if Porzingis does want to return to New York, should the Knicks be interested in bringing him back?

The team doesn’t have the cap room to sign him if he opts out of his player option and becomes a free agent, so they would need to work out a sign-and-trade which would most likely involve Mitchell Robinson, given that the team would need to free up the starting center spot.

That was backed up in an article by Heavy Sports NBA insider Sean Deveney when an Eastern Conference general manager told him that the Knicks would be open to making Robinson available as a sweetener in a trade for a star.

“They have felt out the market on him because he is an old-school kind of center—good rim protector and rebounder, but he does not want to shoot past three or four feet and he’s not much of a passer.”

That ability to shoot is a central benefit of adding Porzingis. The Knicks are desperate for floor spacing to stretch the defense and open up penetration lanes for Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett. 

However, while Porzingis would make the Knicks’ offense more explosive in certain respects, they would lose a lot when it comes to rebounding. 

Mitchell Robinson is also an elite rebounder who had a 17.2% rebounding rate this season, which was 20th among starting centers in the NBA. He also posted a 16.6% offensive rebounding rate, which ranked him 6th, and he pulled down 4.5 offensive rebounds per game. Meanwhile, Porzingis ranked 57th with a 13% rebounding rate and 64th in offensive rebounding rate at just 5.7%. 

Robinson also ranked as the 14th-best defensive center in the NBA based on FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, while  Porzingis finished 19th. So even though Porzingis had a better WAR (Wins Above Replacement), finishing 7th among all centers at 8.2, adding him over Robinson could create major issues for the team’s defense. 

With the Knicks already dealing with defensive issues around the trip of Brunson, Barrett, and Julius Randle, adding Porzingis could make fielding a strong defensive unit that much harder. 

For more Knicks coverage, visit amNY Sports

Kristaps Porzingis will face the Knicks
Washington Wizards center Kristaps Porzingis (6) handles the ball against New Orleans Pelicans forward Herbert Jones during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)