An appearance on the court wasn’t even needed for Kristaps Porzingis to distinguish himself as the most recognizable player on opening day at the 2016 NBA Summer League in Orlando.
The 7-foot-3 forward took a 5,000 plus mile journey, from Latvia to New York to the Amway Center to finally meet his new head coach, Jeff Hornacek, and begin individual workouts with the new coaching staff.
Porzingis has yet to be cleared for practice, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final seven games of his rookie campaign, but he is ready to begin preparing for his sophomore season.
Prior to New York’s contest against the Pistons, Porzingis spoke to the media for the first time in over three months, below is a transcript from his media scrum.
What was your reaction to the news about the trade the Knicks made last week?
Derrick Rose can help us at the guard position. I love his game, how explosive he is, how quick he is, how he runs in transition. He can help us not be static all the time. I think he can really help us win.
What’s it going to be like being the young guy around all of these veterans?
At least I’m not going to be a rookie anymore. That’s a good situation for me, I can learn from all those guys, all those veterans. To have Melo, Rose and Noah and the rest of the guys is going to be a great situation. I’ll be watching what those guys do.
Is it refreshing to be on a team that made a move to win now with the trade for Derrick Rose?
Of course. I understand the situation. I’m young, but you don’t have 10 years to win a championship, we’ve got to win soon. So that’s my mindset as well. I know those guys want to win, they’ve been in this league a long time. All I’ve got to do is stay as mentally focused as I can to help those guys win. That’s my number one goal, I’m going to give 100 percent.
A shoulder injury ended your rookie season early, what have you been able to do to improve your game this summer with the limitations of that injury?
I’ve been working a lot on my handles. Really have been working a lot. It’s been a little annoying, with all the little drills that my brother Janis has made me do. I’ve just tried to say mentally focused and it really has helped me. Every day I can feel that I’m getting better and feeling the ball more. Just shooting a lot. Shooting. He pushes me to the point where I can’t shoot anymore, then I try to push through that. Just moves from the outside, in the post, jumping into the paint. That type of stuff. The shoulder is doing much better. I don’t feel any pain working out or lifting. No pain, no nothing. But I feel I need to keep working on the strength of my shoulder.
First year coach Jeff Hornacek is going to try and push the pace more and infuse more speed into the Knicks offense, do you feel like that was a necessary adjustment?
I think so. I think we played too static. That’s why it’s great we have a guy like D-Rose. We have got to move the ball up the floor and we have to keep up with him. There is going to be a lot of easy fast break buckets for me if we are running the fast break and he is pushing the ball. I’m really excited about the idea of playing quicker and faster.
When you hear names such as Dwyane Wade being mentioned as a possibility for the Knicks to add in free agency, do you pay attention to that?
There are a lot of rumors going on, but I’m the last person to find out about what is going on. Whatever is happening, then I’ll go from there. I’m sure the owners are making the right decisions for the team. So I am going with whatever is going on with them and going from there.
You’ve added some weight this summer, right?
Yeah, I was pretty skinny at the end of the season, so I don’t know what I was at at the end of the season, but now I think I’ve gained five or six pounds. Maybe five.
Have you grown?
Two inches, now I’m 7-foot-5 (laughs). No, I don’t think so, but they should measure me. You never know, with me, I could be growing until I’m 30, I don’t know.
What was your reception like when you went back home to Latvia?
Actually, it was really relaxing. I went back home and went through the airport just like a regular person. No one was really bothering me. Then as I was going more and more community stuff, I think people realized that I’m back home and that I’m available. More and more people started coming up to me. At the end, I was taking a lot of pictures, a lot of autographs, all that kind of stuff.
Are you on any billboards in town?
Actually, yeah. During the season I think they already put up a billboard when you entered my hometown (Liepaja). It’s a real small town, so when you entered it, there is a billboard with my ugly face on it. So everybody can see and everyone knows that I’m from there.
Do you foresee any change in your game next season? Will you take more 3-pointers? Play more in the post?
No, I think I’ve got to play in the post when I have a smaller guy on me and play on the outside when I have a bigger, slower guy on me. I’ve just got to keep improving my game, from every aspect. Now I’m going to play in the post, everything. I’m going to be my type of player. Attacking bigger guys from the outside, shooting from the outside. Gotta keep that, but as well, add new moves in the post. Just being stronger in the post, being able to position deeper when I have a smaller guy on me. I’ve got to use that to my advantage. Work on one thing then slowly put it all together.
You seem more excited then you were at the end of last season, what sparked that change?
I’m happy to be back in America. It’s exciting what is going on with the free agency and stuff. I’ve got my energy back, I’m back in the states, working and I’m just looking forward to the season. During the season, you have mood swings. Right now, I’m just full of energy and looking forward to the season. Three or four months until the beginning of the season, so I’ve got to keep that same energy. Just keep working and when the season is here, I’ll enjoy it more, when I can show something new on the court.
You aren’t going to practice with the Knicks Summer League team, right?
I’ll just be working out individually.
Are you looking forward to meeting with coach Jeff Hornacek? Have you had a phone conversation, or have you been just texting?
No, just texting. I’m looking forward to meeting him and getting to know our new coach. I’m looking forward to getting to know the way he thinks and his philosophy on the basketball court. That’s really important.
Have you talked to Joakim Noah at all?
I haven’t talked to him, I was supposed to go on a dinner with him last night, but I flew in at 12 and I wasn’t able to do that.
Have you met him before?
Just playing against him, that’s it. He was hurt a lot. Maybe one game out of those four.