December 21, 2018 | 4:00pm
There’ll be no Merry Kristaps and no January return. The earliest Kristaps Porzingis can possibly be back from his ACL tear is not until late February, pending him meeting benchmarks. And Knicks president Steve Mills still would not guarantee his return this season.
The Knicks released a statement saying Porzingis received a battery of tests and may soon advance to “oncourt team drills and activities” and “will be reevaluated in mid-February.” That is the one-year anniversary of his knee surgery and a timetable that has been followed in the NBA for ACL tears recently.
In a meeting with Knicks writers, Mills said how much Porzingis does on the court is “fluid.” Mills said it’s possible he’ll be cleared for practice before mid-February, but he said nothing is assured.
“There will be a series of benchmarks that we’ll still measure as we’re going through this,” Mills said. “But then we’ll have another in mid-February. We feel like we’ll have enough data and enough information to make another assessment to see exactly where he is.”
Asked directly if there’s a chance he can still play his first game in February, Mills said: “I don’t know. I won’t know until after we do these next round of testing. I’m saying we won’t know when he will play until we do the next set of testing, which is in mid-February.”
The continued vagueness is no surprise. According to sources, the Knicks won’t pin an approximate date on his first game back in case he doesn’t meet the deadline. And while Mills said the team “would like him to play” this season, the president won’t give a guarantee.
“I think we would like him to play and hope that he plays as soon as he’s comfortable playing,” Mills said. “We’d like him to get on the court, we’d love to see him play, but we also acknowledge that he is a really, really important part of the long-term future of this franchise. And the one thing we’re not going to do is take any real risk with a -year-old player in his position.”
Sources also contend it’s not just a physical benchmark Porzingis must meet but a mental part regarding when he feels ready to go full out.
“This is a mutual process and a mutual agreement,” Mills said. “He’s looking for us to say, ‘Yes, you can play,’ or ‘You can’t play.’ And we’re looking to him to sort of get a feel for, ‘How are you feeling, KP? How does this feel? How do the coaches think you’re feeling with these kind of movements?’ And then we’ll come to some conclusion as to, OK, this is what we’re comfortable doing. But it’ll be a collective. We’ll both be on the same page when we decide whatever is next.”
Whether it’s semantics or not, Porzingis is on the court practicing with the coaches.
“What he’s done is he’s progressed to the point where he’s able to do some one-on-one,” Mills said. “Actually work on the court with our coaches. There’s still some benchmarks that we need to look at to see when he could move to the next phase of his on-court development, on-court progression. But he’s at the point now where he’s able to do 45-minute sessions on the floor with our coaches to go through a bunch of on-court activities.”
Porzingis underwent testing some time in the last week.
“It really consists of us doing some physical testing of strength and quickness and lateral agility-type things, physical examination from the doctors and a medical examination in terms of MRIs,” Mills said. “And so what we’ve seen is we’re happy with the progress and we’re happy he’s been able to progress to a point where now we can start to introduce him involved with our coaches out on the floor.”
Mills said having Porzingis play the final portion of the season to attract free agents is not an issue. It’s more his mental and physical well-being.
As for the Knicks’ 9-24 record, Mills, who hadn’t spoken to the press since four days before training camp, said: “I’m not happy, we’re not happy with our record. Even though this is a rebuilding process, I think we’ve been pretty clear that sort of our approach is to try to win every game we possibly can.”