MEMPHIS – Phil Jackson tweeted out a picture Friday of him meeting with Lithuanian basketball officials, accompanied by a message praising his own Lithuanian player – Mindaugas Kuzminskas – and calling that national team, “a force internationally.”
Turns out, there wasn’t much to read into it. According to Kuzminskas, the two men in the photo were Ramunas Siskauskas, a Lithuanian coach, and Mindaugas Spokas, the general secretary of the nation’s basketball federation. They were in New York discussing with Jackson plans for Kuzminskas to train with the Lithuanian team in the offseason and participate in the Eurobasket tournament. The Knicks could have two other participants in the tournament in Willy Hernangomez (Spain) and Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia). However, the Knicks advised against Porzingis playing with the national team the last two offseason and Jeff Hornacek indicated that the club remains undecided regarding their 7-3 stud.
Porzingis missed his third straight game Friday against the Grizzlies with a sore back. Technically, NBA teams aren’t allowed to dictate whether one of its players competes in offseason international tournaments.
“That’s something we’ll discuss at the end of the year. Sometimes your concern with a guy that big, wearing him out in the summer, that kind of stuff,” Hornacek said. “But on the other hand he is only 21 years old and the experience is good for him. So I’m sure we’ll talk about it over the summer. I know we’ve done it in the past in other places where you kind of have an agreement with the team over there that, hey, don’t practice him every day, practice him every other day if you want him to play. I don’t know if we can do that with (Latvia). But I’m sure we’ll talk about it.”
With Jackson reaping praise on Lithuanian federation, it’s worth noting that the country has a prospect in the upcoming draft – 6-9 forward Arnoldas Kulboka. The 19-year-old is a projected second rounder, and the Knicks have both their picks this summer for a change.
“I think just at this age it’s really hard to tell who is going to be a good player and who is not because a lot of factors can this happen or not happen like injuries,” Kuzminskas said. “I think he’s in a really good position that he’s in now (in the German professional league). He’s playing a lot.”