Kristaps Porzingis and the End of Hope

For the Knicks, hope has been as rare as a 7′ 3″ unicorn who's just as comfortable on the perimeter as he is inside. After Porzingis tore his ACL last night, New York has lost both for the foreseeable future.

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Feb 7 2018, 9:31pm

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

I literally screamed. A meaningless mid-February tilt between the New York Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks became something unimaginable, an end. Or at least a seeming end to the rarest of Knicksian states of being: hope.

After putting a mini-poster dunk on Giannis Antetokounmpo—who spent the bulk of the night doing incredible and downright rude things to various Knicks—Kristaps Porzingis drove to the rim, only to land awkwardly on Antetokounmpo’s foot, his left ankle buckling for a moment. Then the entirety of his 7-3 frame went tumbling to the ground. He clutched his left knee and writhed in pain.

For a moment, I couldn’t really process what had happened. It all seemed so unreal, like a still out of an awful fever dream. And then I heard myself shouting at the television. The remaining two and half quarters were one long, dull ache, until the word was given and the absolute worst possible results of an MRI were relayed: Porzingis had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and was done for the year. Probably longer.

What makes this all so crushing is that the Knicks had actually uncovered a potential franchise-defining star for the first time since Patrick Ewing was lofting a buttery-smooth baseline jumper and patrolling the paint with his trademark perma-scowl. The vast bulk of the 21st century has been decidedly hope- and promise free. For close to two decades, the Knicks have been defined by a downright lousy product on the court and a front office that fetishized faded, overpaid and defense-free scorers and/or archaic offensive systems.

Porzingis felt like the antidote to all that, to all the alternatively infuriating and sad black comedy provided by both the team itself and mock turtleneck aficionado, James Dolan. This is the contract fandom demands: Enough suffering, and you’ll eventually be rewarded with something worth wasting so much emotional currency. it feels like that’s all been taken away too, or that the contract Knicks fans signed was all some kind of cruel joke.

It’s still far too early to begin speculating about how and if Porzingis might recover, but history provides little comfort. At FanSided, Jared Dubin pointed out that Porzingis has been racking up quite a few injuries to the left side of his body, all of which could be indicative of a larger issue, Tuesday’s freak tumble notwithstanding. And Kevin Pelton has provided a nice—i.e. harrowing—look at previous ACL tears at ESPN. Even if Zach LaVine has been looking mighty spry of late, the data shows that the vast bulk of players take a dip post-surgery, and its effects tend to tamp down performance in the years to follow.

So what now? Aside from the hilarity of Michael Beasley jacking up 15 to 20 shots a game, there’s very little reason to watch the rest of the way. Regardless of whether or not the team is able to pawn off any vets prior to Thursday’s trade deadline—like Courtney Lee, Kyle O’Quinn, and their currently AWOL salary cap millstone, Joakim Noah—they’re going to be really, really, bad, and that’s saying something for a team that’s won six of the last 24.

With Porzingis, the Knicks scored 105.5 points per 100 possessions and gave up 105.4. Once he sauntered over to the bench, their scoring dipped to 102, and they allowed 106.9. Now that they’re running out a lineup comparable to this year’s Atlanta Hawks, maybe they’ll be able to snag a few extra ping pong balls in the final 27 games, even with the NBA’s clogged basement-dwellers and tankmasters all vying to do the same. If nothing else, it seems as if Porzingis’s injury will prod Hornacek into giving the scant few promising youngsters he has a little more floor time, but this is all very thin gruel.

It’s enough to make an ostensibly grown man act like a small, mewling child, in my case, one that loved Bernard King. When Porzingis went down, I couldn’t help but flash back to watching King trying to chase down Reggie Theus at the old Kemper Arena in Kansas City and hearing him scream, loud enough to be broadcast on-air, “Oh, shit. Oh god!” before he crumpled to the floor, writhing in agony and pounding his fist.

I want to live in hope, or as Hornacek told reporters on Wednesday, that Porzingis will be “back and stronger than ever,” flushing putback dunks, and doing things that should not be possible for a person his size. I can only imagine what Porzingis must be going through, given the long and lonely rehab slog he’s facing, and after seeing his best friend, Willy Hernangomez, dealt to Charlotte for a couple of future second round picks. The adult response would be to realize that whatever misery Knicks fans experience pales in comparison to his, and shunt my own complaints to the side. But right now I’m just numbly sad, like a selfish 12-year-old who couldn’t understand why the world had taken away Bernard.

Get better, Kristaps.