Stepping to the microphone for the first time as the franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis promptly offered perfect symbolism.
“We need some fresh air in here,” he said.
Porzingis was talking about gross humidity inside a crowded tent at Media Day, but it was fitting given the influx of new faces that were about to hit the stage. It’s not so much that the air is fresher around the Knicks. It’s just different now that Carmelo Anthony is gone.
“Obviously now we have the opportunity to turn the page a little bit,” said team president Steve Mills, who dealt Anthony for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick. “Again, it still came down to something that was going to be presented to us that made enough sense from a basketball perspective. It just happened to come together like we said late Friday night, early Saturday morning. So we’re looking forward to moving ahead, establishing the culture that we want to have here and how we’re going to play as a basketball team.”
The Knicks wanted to avoid a circus at training camp, and they accomplished their mission with an 11th-hour deal with OKC. The front office paid tribute to Anthony with kind words about his character, and completed their gesture with a $100,000 donation to the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico — a cause Anthony has advocated as half-Puerto Rican.
Then it was back to basketball, mostly, and the glut of questions surrounding a team with only two clear starters: Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. The rest will be determined in training camp and preseason.
The order of the Media Day interviews became a message in where the players stand on the organization’s reconfigured totem pole, and Porzingis got the star treatment as first on stage. He understands the greater burden without Anthony.
“Honestly, he took a lot of pressure off of everybody. We all understand that. He was always the No. 1 focal point for the other team. I realize that. And now I’m going to be one of those guys that other teams are going to focus on,” Porzingis said. “That’s one of the things that are a little more difficult for me. So it’s going to be different. It’s going to be way different. He drew so much attention. And now there’s going to be more attention on me. I have to be ready for it. It’s going to be different.”
Porzingis has always spoken with confidence about his game, ever since he was booed on draft night and prematurely dubbed the next European bust. So it’s no surprise he answered, “I believe so,” when asked if he’ll be an All-Star this season.
The only real surprise Monday was the lack of drama. Last year, Derrick Rose’s impending civil trial overshadowed Media Day. Two years ago, Derek Fisher’s fight with Matt Barnes took over the narrative in training camp. Before that, Phil Jackson’s triangle was introduced and served as a weight over the franchise.
Without Jackson, without Anthony, Monday felt like the exhale after a failed experiment.
“I’m coming into this season with a fresh mind. It’s a new season. I want to leave what happened, I want to leave in the past. The past is the past,” Porzingis said. “I don’t want to talk about that no more. I want to talk about this season. I’m just excited to be here.”
While Porzingis is ready for a fresh start as he returns for the upcoming season, Kanter, a big fan of New York City, was so shocked he was traded to the Knicks that he decided pinching himself wasn’t enough.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and punched myself. I said, ‘Is this a dream? Is this really happening?’”
Kanter offered the most enthusiastic interview of Media Day on Monday, speaking less than two hours after he officially became a Knick via the trade for Carmelo Anthony.
Kanter spent some of his offseason in New York, but has played out his career in two of the league’s smallest markets — Utah and Oklahoma City.
He’s been warned by former teammates Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams that playing for the Knicks will be different.
“They told me two things. They told me first thing, this is New York, it’s a dangerous place to play because of distractions). So focus on basketball. And the second thing, watch out for the New York media. So I’m watching for you guys.”