NEW YORK — With the countdown underway to the end of another dispiriting season, the New York Knicks had pause to at least imagine brighter days ahead when Kristaps Porzingis made an appearance Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis, the 7-foot-3 Latvian whom the Knicks have been trying to build their team around, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Feb. 6 in a home game against Milwaukee. He was operated on the following week and could be out for up to 12 months.
The timing of the injury was especially cruel as Porzingis, while averaging a career-best 22.7 points per game and an NBA-leading 2.7 blocked shots, had been selected for his first All-Star Game.
Instead, he spent the days after the injury on the telephone with players who had already experienced the long, grueling rehabilitation process of the ACL injury, including a fellow Latvian, Davis Bertans of the San Antonio Spurs.
While the season went on without him, he watched his share of Knicks games — almost all of them unsightly, leaving a fourth consecutive 50-plus-loss season a virtual certainty.
“Of course, it’s hard for me to watch it on TV — it’s not a good feeling,” he said.
Porzingis was hurt when he landed awkwardly after dunking the ball against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Describing the injury for the first time, he said he initially thought he had only sprained his ankle.
“Honestly, when it happened, it was a sharp pain, but I got up, started walking a little bit, so once I got to the locker room, I was like, ‘When can I get back in the game?'” he said. “I guess the doctors already had a bad feeling about it. Went to the hospital and then I got the news. I thought I had a sprain, honestly. I didn’t feel a pop. I didn’t feel anything.
“I was shocked at first. I couldn’t believe it had happened to me. And about 30 seconds later, I said, OK, what can I do now to make a comeback and to focus on the next thing?”
The first thing in tackling the next thing, he said, was not to get ahead of himself and to approach his rehab as a daily process. He said there was “not really” a timetable on his comeback.
He shrugged and added, “It depends on the individual.”
Porzingis said he planned to use the recovery time to strengthen his entire body. “I’m already doing upper body work, working on my core,” he said. “I just want to keep myself busy, not think it’s too much.”
One thing he has surely given some thought to is the five-year, $157 million contract extension he will be eligible to sign next summer — should the Knicks be willing to make such a deal with a player still months away from playing.
“It’s their job, it’s in their hands,” he said, referring to the many moves awaiting the Knicks’ front office, including another lottery draft pick. “And that’s for the summer. I haven’t really thought about that — it’s also not my job.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.