After Carmelo Anthony got traded, the New York Knicks immediately became Kristaps Porzingis’ team whether he liked it or not.
In his initial comments, it seemed as though the big man was hesitant about accepting a role as the vocal leader of his teammates.
“I don’t need to force it,” Porzingis told Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com last week. “The first thing I’ll do, I’ll be the hardest working guy. We have a lot of guys that work hard. I’ll work hard also and give an example and then from that hard work you can be a leader.”
So, while he will lead by example and not with his words, he made something very clear on Monday: he’s ready to publicly become the face of the franchise.
"It's something that I wanted one day, to be like that,” he explained via Ian Begley of ESPN. “I just kept working towards it, kept getting better. And I'm going to keep ... growing as a player and hopefully year by year we can grow as a team also.”
He doesn’t feel any different going into this season, but he knows that the hungry and (at times) vicious New York media will be focusing on him closely for the foreseeable future.
"Obviously, when it's going great, then you can be the God, and then when it's going bad, they want to kill you. So there are going to be some tough moments, I'm sure about that. I've just got to be strong mentally here in New York and it will be fine,” he said.
Porzingis’ two years in New York haven't exactly been smooth 100 percent of the time. If you recall, at the end of last season, he famously skipped his exit interview in a protest to the team’s dysfunction. But, it appears that he’s ready to move forward now that Phil Jackson is gone.
“I’m coming into this season with a fresh mind. It’s a new season,” he told Marc Berman of the New York Post last week. “I want to leave what happened … in the past. The past is the past. I don’t want to talk about that no more. I want to talk about this season. I’m just excited to be here.”
“I’m excited about the opportunity to be the leader of the team,’’ Porzingis said at the time. “But, again, there’s going to be 15 guys on the roster, and everyone is going to have to contribute. Everybody is going to do that. It’s not just about one guy and it’s his team. It’s a team. It’s not just one guy.”
Porzingis will look to build on his 2016-2017 season in which he averaged 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Since he’s just 22 years old, the 7’3” star will likely become more and more comfortable in a vocal role over time.