Kristaps Porzingis is talking like someone planning on a return. In fact, the Knicks’ star forward is making it sound as if he’s nearing the end of his rehabilitation road.
“Now that it’s getting closer, I can taste it,” the 7-foot-3 Latvian told GQ in his first public comments since the opening of Knicks training camp on Sept. 24. “I’m trying to stay patient. The day will come.”
Porzingis has been sidelined since tearing his left ACL on Feb. 6. He underwent surgery a week later, and the Knicks have yet to offer a concrete timetable on his potential return. Team president Steve Mills said on ESPN Radio in late June there would have more information on his status in late September after he took strength tests, but that info has not materialized. Porzingis, 23, has begun doing contact drills against other people, he said in the interview, which was conducted a few weeks ago, but the most challenging aspect of his rehab is trying not to come back too fast.
“Sometimes I have workouts where the knee doesn’t feel as good,” he said. “Mentally, that’s the most difficult part, because you want to keep going and you want to do more, but there’s something holding you back, because you shouldn’t push it too much. I’m always trying to be smart and patient with it, but at some point, you get anxious and antsy.”
The team declined to sign the 7-foot-3 Latvian to a rookie extension before the Oct. 15 deadline, freeing up an additional $10 million in cap space for next summer when Porzingis can become a restricted free agent.
Porzingis was initially planning to travel with the Knicks for road games, but has made it to just one game away from the Garden, against the Nets in Brooklyn. Coach David Fizdale has explained that decision as the organization feeling it’s best for him to rehab at home.
Fizdale started a mini firestorm last week, when he said Porzingis had yet to make progress and was still only lightly running. Hours later, Porzingis posted on Instagram photos of himself running sprints at an outdoor track followed by a photo of UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov with the caption, “This is number one bulls–t.” The next day, Fizdale accepted blame for being unaware of his star’s progress, saying the Knicks’ medical staff was aware of the recent development and calling himself a “doofus.”
The Knicks, 4-10 and likely headed back to the lottery, obviously could use Porzingis. The idea of him missing this season doesn’t seem like something he’s expecting to happen. But he isn’t rushing, either.
“It’s good that it’s coming to an end, but in many ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Porzingis said. “I’ve learned so much about my body and myself. My vision is much clearer on many, many things.”