Give credit to Kristaps Porzingis, who at only 24 years old has learned to artfully dodged questions about what went wrong just before he was traded by the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’ll probably get in more trouble if I start talking about that stuff,” he said Thursday. “It is what it is. It wasn’t ideal.”
The Porzingis trade and how it all ended in New York is front and center ahead of his first game against the Knicks, Friday night at American Airlines Center.
Of more concern to Porzingis is getting his game straightened out as he figures out a new system while trying to knock off the rust from a 20-month layoff following surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee.
The Knicks’ loss is the Mavs’ gain, but there is still some mystery and questions in New York as to why a team headed nowhere would unload an NBA All-Star who, at the time, was only 23 and nearly recovered from surgery.
Ultimately, the losing wore on him, and he saw no end in sight. He wanted to be traded, and the Knicks didn’t want to possibly lose him for nothing.
He posted a few vague things on Instagram that created a stir and rankled some fans.
He wasn’t interesting in stirring any pots Thursday.
“I have nothing but love for the city of New York and the fans,” Porzingis said. “They showed me so much support the time I was there. They’re so passionate about the team. It’s normal that they feel that way. All I can do is just look forward to what I have in front of me, not behind. That’s it.”
The Mavs traded 2017 first-rounder Dennis Smith Jr., Deandre Jordan, Wesley Matthews and two first-round picks to the Knicks on Jan. 31 for Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and Trey Burke. Hardaway and Lee remain with the Mavs, while only Smith is still with the Knicks.
Porzingis said he is excited to face the Knicks and players who were his teammates as he came into the NBA in 2015. Though he never played for coach David Fizdale because of injury, they formed a bond last season before the trade.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian sees this game as another chance to move in the right direction after his lengthy layoff. Even though he isn’t satisfied with how he has played in the first seven games of the season, he is averaging 19 points and 8.1 rebounds.
“I’m more focused on just playing my game,” Porzingis said. “I haven’t been playing well the last couple games. I want to get going. I want to get in my groove no matter who it is against. It just happens to be against my old team.”
Some players have been tripped up when playing former teams. There’s extra energy or motivation, depending on the circumstances of the breakup.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said he experienced it as a player, though it was because he was cut by teams rather than being the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade. He isn’t fooling himself about what emotions might be coursing through Porzingis on Friday, but he also didn’t seem worried about it.
“When you play your old team, it’s always an occasion,” Carlisle said. “For me to stand here and say it’s not big deal, I’m not fool enough to do that, and you guys are too smart to know that’s not the case. What will work best for everyone involved is for him to continue to do what he’s doing, and that is to continue to play the overall team game.”