A smile formed on Kristaps Porzingis’ face as he reflected on the buzz at Madison Square Garden. Nearly seven years ago, sell-out crowds greeted Porzingis with cheers in hopes he could become the New York Knicks’ savior after selecting him with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft.
“I’m not going to lie; I missed it,” Porzingis told NBA.com recently.
But with Porzingis experiencing speed bumps with his health and with the front office through his first four NBA seasons, the Knicks dealt him to the Dallas Mavericks in February of 2019. More injuries awaited Porzingis in Dallas as well as inconsistent chemistry with Mavs star Luka Doncic. Dallas then shipped Porzingis to Washington at the trade deadline last season.
Despite the Wizards’ record (18-24) amid star guard Bradley Beal missing a combined 18 games mostly due to injuries, Porzingis sounded content with both his improved health and his role. With the Wizards hosting the Knicks (23-19) on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), however, Porzingis offered doses of gratitude and regret for how his time in New York ended.
“It wasn’t perfect on either side,” Porzingis NBA.com. “But Phil Jackson was there at the time, and I’m nothing but grateful for him to have the [courage] to draft me with the fourth pick and give me the opportunity to play in New York.”
Porzingis spoke to NBA.com about numerous topics, including his challenges with the Knicks and Mavericks, as well as his improved health and fit with the Wizards.
Editor’s Note: This 1-on-1 conversation has been edited and condensed.
How are you doing physically?
I’m pretty good. I’m staying healthy this year.
I read you lost seven pounds this summer. What was the reason?
It wasn’t on purpose. My body adjusted. I did a lot of lower-body strengthening and less on my upper body. That’s how I feel best on the court. I have better balance. I’m more explosive. I’m better laterally on defense. The weight came off naturally. It wasn’t something that I was focused on. I don’t need to get lighter. I just need to stay strong and agile.
What was your offseason regimen as well as your current day-to-day to try to stay healthy?
I do the same thing. I do a lot of lunges. I do a lot of squatting. I go up and all the way down to make sure that I’m connected to the ground. That’s a big emphasis. It’s been working really well for me. My balance is really good. I’m all over the floor. Even though I feel lighter, I also feel stronger.
How has that helped your health?
It’ll just help me in the long run and to stay on the floor. I’m not carrying extra weight that I don’t really need. That’s not helping me. That’s just more pounding on my knees and ankles. The lighter and stronger I am, the less pressure there will be on my joints. I believe that’s the recipe for me to stay on the court.
Wes [Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr.] said he’s been impressed with how you play through “the bumps and bruises.” What’s your approach with that?
I’ve had some bigger injuries. Now that I’m healthy, the minor things are no big deal. I want to stay on the court and keep playing. Everybody always has something going on. It’s never like ‘I’m perfect and nothing is hurting.’ I enjoy playing as long as I’m giving something to the team. I never want to be a minus for the team. I want to add to the team. Whenever I can play, I’ll play.
What are some examples of the minor things you play through?
I’ve had a banged-up hip, for example. When I walk, I feel it on every step. But it’s not going to stop me from playing. After I warm up, I can get it going.
Unseld also said that the Wizards’ medical staff tries to take preventative measures with managing you. How have you seen that?
I want to play every game. Even when my back has been stiff as hell [recently], I wanted to get it going. But they said, ‘We have to take it easy a little bit. Let the back come back to normal.’
Where does having the pain tolerance come from?
I’ve matured. Once you get older, your mind gets tougher. You are able to push through many more things than when you were younger.
You’ve said before that your various injuries humbled you and made you mature. How so?
When you get hurt, especially a long-term injury like an ACL, you fully realize that basketball is your identity. Until you get hurt, you don’t realize what it’s like being taken away from you. You think, ‘Who am I?’ It’s a weird feeling. I had to figure it out. I knew these injuries wouldn’t last forever. I figured out a lot of things I like outside of basketball. It makes you humble. It makes you appreciate all of the different things that put things in perspective. Basketball is not everything. It can end just like that. Then you have to figure out who you are. I don’t wish that on anybody. It’s tough to go through. You learn a lot about yourself. I wouldn’t change that for anything.
What did you learn about yourself?
How my body works and how my mind works during those difficult moments. I worked on that a lot. It’s like you’re taking a long walk in the desert and you’re trying to find water.
What exercises or techniques did you tap into with that?
Of course, meditation. Especially when I was in New York with the noise and the intensity of the city. I had to find a moment during the day to slow down. It was mostly mindfulness stuff. I would be in the moment. I wouldn’t think too far ahead. I wouldn’t think about the past. You can’t affect anything with that. I tried to be present as much as I could day-to-day. Meditation is one of the things that helped me.
What were the challenges with dealing with the noise in New York?
You get used to it after a while with the police sirens and people honking. You know how New York is. It takes a while to get used to. No matter what skyscraper you lived in, you still could hear it.
What about the noise with playing for the Knicks and being in that market?
It was intense. It’s the biggest stage you can play on. You go from being loved by everybody to [the opposite] all of a sudden. I’m not going to lie. I missed it. But that’s the reality. That’s what made me think this is not going to be forever, so I better figure out who I am without that.
What did you miss?
Just playing in The Garden, getting that love from the fans and the support. It made me appreciate every person that asked for a picture or an autograph. I appreciated that way more when I was hurt.
Why don’t you think things worked out with the Knicks?
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 on 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.
It was a dream come true. In the moment, I didn’t realize it’s not like that everywhere. New York is a special place. Madison Square Garden is the most special place I had ever played in. But at that moment, I thought it was like that on every team. I had the most fun playing in The Garden.
What things would you have done differently?
I don’t want to go into too much detail, but how things went with the communication wasn’t my style. My style would be different with whatever needed to be done. Maybe it was nothing. My style would’ve been different either way. But I was wrong. I was going with the flow.
Much was made about you missing your last exit meeting [in 2017]…
(Interrupts) You think I came up with that? (laughs). It is what it is.
How do you think things would’ve played out in New York and Dallas, if not for your injuries?
If I didn’t get hurt in New York, you never know how things could’ve gone. But I can’t keep living with this feeling of regret. I have to keep moving forward. I’m really happy here in Washington now. I’m focused on now and what’s coming ahead.
What were your takeaways from your last 2 1/2 seasons in Dallas?
It was also a good learning experience for me. I have positive memories. It was a great organization filled with great people. There were wonderful people in the organization. The love I received in Dallas was incredible.
You had told me last season that you thought you and Luka Doncic had the potential to be one of the most dominant duos in the league. But you also have since concluded that it wasn’t a good fit. Why didn’t your fit with Luka live up to its potential?
It wasn’t the right fit. That’s it. We had some good moments. That first year before the bubble, I started playing really well. Then in the bubble, we started playing really well together. Then I was hurt the second year and I wasn’t as effective. I could’ve played better in Dallas. But with my style of play, long-term I don’t think it would’ve worked out, anyway. It didn’t work out the way we wanted it to, but Luka is a superstar. He’s an incredible player. He’s got to keep going and keep doing his thing.
Long-term, why don’t you think it would’ve worked out?
I just didn’t think it was the right fit.
Clippers coach Ty Lue observed from afar you seem more comfortable now that you have the ball in your hands. What has that done for your game?
I’m a much different player when I feel the ball more. I also enjoy making plays for my teammates and being a decoy. I get doubled a lot and can face some tough defenses. I like to try to find my teammates and open shots. I enjoy playing with these guys. But hopefully, we have Brad back as soon as possible.
Beyond health, what’s it going to take to turn things around this season?
There’s not just one thing we have to do to get better. We have to have guys healthy and then put it all together both on offense and defense. We have a lot of room to grow, but I think it’s coming. I’m optimistic.
You have a player option to consider next offseason. What things will influence your decision?
That’s early. I wish I could tell you something. But I haven’t thought about it at all. It depends on how the year goes. Then we’ll go from there. Anything can happen. We’ll see how we do something as a team. [Kyle] Kuzma also has a player option. We’ll see what he does.
You’ve said you still liked the fit here. Why?
The way Wes is utilizing me. It’s what I enjoy the most. When they put a guard on me, I punish them inside. When there is a big guarding me, I can attack from the outside and shoot 3s. I think the way I’m being utilized and used as a decoy for my teammates is how I like to be playing the most.
Why does that make you feel most comfortable?
It fits my game the best. I can shoot 3s, obviously. But if that is the only thing I’m doing, I don’t feel comfortable. When I’m inside-out and drawing fouls, that’s when I’m most effective. It’s about being all over the floor.
Unseld said he’s been pleasantly surprised with your defense and that you’ve shown you’re not a ‘defensive liability’ as he thought you might be. How have you seen that?
One year in Dallas, I was a defensive liability because my lateral movement was lacking after one of my injuries. Now that I’m healthy, I’m doing what I can to protect the rim and using my length. I have to keep going in that direction. Before, my feet weren’t as connected to the ground. The lateral movement was tough. Now it’s much better.
When Bradley has played, what has the chemistry been with him?
It’s been great. I love playing with Brad with how much attention he draws and how quick he is with those [dribble] handoffs. It opens the game up for me. He’s a great teammate and great leader. People aren’t appreciating enough how he has been playing when he has been on the court. He wants everybody to be a great player.
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