If you asked me who my favorite athlete was a week ago, the answer would have been easy: Kristaps Porzingis. As a lifelong New York Knicks fan, I have not experienced a lot of success. In my lifetime, the Knicks have only made it to the NBA Finals once. In the lockout-shortened 1999, they became the first and only eighth seeded team to make it to championship, where they were promptly trounced by the San Antonio Spurs. I was three years old then and remember none of this.
Since then, the Knicks have been a horrendous basketball team most of the time and have occasionally been a mediocre basketball team. Not only have the Knicks been bad at playing basketball, they have also been very bad at managing a basketball team. The Knicks front office has made countless terrible trades and signings, have rarely drafted a prospect who ultimately succeeded in the league and have continued to foster a toxic relationship between the administration and the players.
However, in 2015, something changed. With the fourth overall pick in the draft, the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis. Of course, clinging to our ingrained pessimism, most Knick fans were unhappy with the choice. However, just a few games into the 2015-2016 season, it was clear that our pessimism was misplaced. Porzingis looked to be a generational talent: seven-foot-three, athletic, an excellent shooter. In short, he could be a franchise player for years to come.
Watching Porzingis play for the last three seasons made me feel a joy I have never felt in sports. Obviously, his tremendous skill is incredible to witness, but it felt so much more meaningful because he was our guy. Sure, there were some red flags; he seemed to struggle working with other playmakers, he was constantly at odds with Knicks management and, worst of all, he was very injury-prone. Nevertheless, we were willing to overlook those red flags because Porzingis was a homegrown star. We drafted him as a 19-year-old. We were watching him grow up.
Of course, in the land of Knicks fandom, all good things must come to an end. Last season, disaster struck when Porzingis tore his ACL. He was declared out for the season, a season in which he had been playing his best basketball yet. For once, after this injury, Knicks fans were able to be optimistic. After all, he was our guy. We were committed to Porzingis long term. We hoped that he would be back from his injury in two seasons, stronger than ever. We hoped that by then, the team would have signed a top free agent, such as Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving. We hoped that after Porzingis’s recovery, the Knicks would finally be a contender in the Eastern Conference. We hoped, we hoped, we hoped.
Hoping as a Knick fan is a dangerous game. Year after year, the team — either the players or the management, or both — betrayed this hope. And this year was no different. On Thursday, Jan. 31, a week ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline, the New York Knicks traded Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks, essentially to clear salary cap space. The trade can be justified as the Knicks will have the most salary cap room in the league next season, which will enable them to possibly sign not one but two marquee free agents. Furthermore, it is possible that Porzingis will never be the same player; it is rare that a seven-foot tall, skinny athlete recovers fully from an ACL injury.
That being said, this trade was devastating for many Knicks fans, even putting aside Porzingis’s tremendous upside as a basketball asset. This trade hurts because it’s not just about assets when you’re a fan. Porzingis was the defining feature of the Knicks. He was both the present and the future. He was our guy! The fan base was so excited to finally have a homegrown Knick to rally around — our first legitimate drafted star since the immortal Patrick Ewing — and the front office traded him to clear cap space!
If the Knicks end up signing two free agents, it will be difficult to complain about this trade. However, even if it is ultimately successful basketball-asset-wise, something will always feel off about it. He was our guy, and now he’s gone.