New York Knicks president Steve Mills said the organization has repaired its relationship with young star Kristaps Porzingis and that the club will be positioned to attract top free agents in the summer of 2019.
During a Thursday interview on ESPN Radio's The Stephen A. Smith Show, Mills said he and first-year general manager Scott Perry worked hard to repair the organization's relationship with Porzingis. The All-Star forward skipped his exit meeting last April with then-team president Phil Jackson and Mills due to frustration over the drama and dysfunction surrounding the organization.
Smith asked Mills if he had any concern that Porzingis, who is eligible this summer for a five-year extension worth more than $150 million, would seek a trade, as other NBA All-Stars such as Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving have done in recent seasons.
"No," Mills said. "We've worked really hard in rebuilding the relationship with KP. For Scott and me, it's been with his brother [Janis Porzingis]. We had to make Janis, who is his agent and his brother, make him feel like he was part of our group and let him understand what we're doing as a team, where we're taking this thing.
"We communicate with KP all the time," Mills added. "And we know he feels good about directionally where we're going. I think you can see that through some of his tweets and social media stuff, and our conversations with him. He's back on board with where we're going and we feel really good about his future with us."
Porzingis is currently in his home country of Latvia rehabbing an ACL injury that is expected to sideline him for a significant portion of the 2018-19 season.
The Knicks still intend to have David Fizdale, who was hired as coach this offseason, to visit with Porzingis in Latvia after Summer League play ends. Fizdale will be joined by Knicks vice president of player development Craig Robinson, Mills said.
Regarding Porzingis' return to the court, Mills said the Knicks would have a more definitive timetable in September, adding that he expects Porzingis to play next year, but didn't explicitly rule out the possibility of him sitting out the entire season.
Mills also said he didn't expect the Knicks to add significant stars in free agency this summer. He expects Enes Kanter to opt in to his $18.6 million player option, which would leave New York with an $8.6 million exception and a $3.4 million exception to use in free agency, in addition to the veteran's minimum exception.
But Mills said the organization plans to be in position to sign a top free agent during the 2019 offseason, when players such as Irving, Leonard and Jimmy Butler might test free agency.
"Our goal is to get our house in order. Develop the foundation," Mills said. "And we are not going to be players [in free agency] this year. If we sign guys it's going to be for a one-year deal because we are going to have room for a max contract in the following year. We'll be able to make room for a max guy."
Mills was asked if the Knicks will be "star searching" next summer, referencing a term that Philadelphia 76ers coach and acting top executive Brett Brown used to describe the Sixers' approach to free agency.
"We feel like we're going to put ourselves in a position where stars are going to want to come to us," Mills said. "That's what we think."
The Knicks, of course, have missed the playoffs in each of the past five seasons and have won just one playoff series in the past 18 years. Mills was asked how he'd sell free agents on signing in New York. He mentioned Porzingis.
"Guys want to be a part of a winning culture," Mills said, adding that Madison Square Garden and the New York market will be a lure. "They want to be a part of a group of guys they want to play with. Porzingis is a magnet. He's the reason why everyone interviewing for coaching jobs this year wanted this job."
What's unclear at this point is if the Knicks plan to offer Porzingis an extension this summer or wait until next summer. Waiting could give New York approximately $10 million in cap space for the summer of 2019. But even if they delayed Porzingis' extension, the club would still need to shed salary by waiving or trading players under contract for the 2019-2020 season to afford a max free agent in 2019, ESPN's Bobby Marks reports.