NEW YORK –- Kristaps Porzingis didn’t even make it to his first All-Star Weekend before losing his first NBA coach.
Needless to say, the New York Knicks' rising rookie was stunned when he learned Derek Fisher was fired Monday morning.
“I saw Coach right before he was leaving [and] I said goodbye to him,” Porzingis said about his final encounter with Fisher on Monday. “It was a shock for me at that moment when he said he wasn’t going to be my coach anymore. He said some good words to me, and I am very thankful for what he did for me and I told him that.”
In his first game playing for Kurt Rambis, Porzingis put on a dazzling display of his budding game in the third quarter. Porzingis scored 14 of his 20 points to help the Knicks erase an 11-point halftime deficit before falling 111-108 to the Washington Wizards.
Knicks fans saw all of Porzingis’ massive potential wrapped in a six-minute stretch. He buried two 3-pointers, left Washington swingman Jared Dudley in the dust with a back-to-the-basket spin move for a thunderous, one-handed dunk, knocked down a 13-foot turnaround bank shot and sank a five-foot driving shot off the glass.
Late in the fourth quarter, the 7-foot-3 Porzingis even appeared to strip John Wall cleanly in transition in open court but was called for a foul. He made up for the foul by erasing a Wall layup with a sensational block from behind after the Wizards’ All-Star blew by Porzingis on his way to what looked like an easy basket.
In the end, though, Porzingis, who had three blocks, saw his team lose for the sixth consecutive time. With Fisher’s firing on top of losing 10 of the past 11, Porzingis is going through the first major adversity of his NBA career.
“It has been a tough last few weeks obviously,” Porzingis said. “Nobody is happy, everybody is kind of depressed that we are losing, but we are trying to stay positive at the same time, and now we lost our coach so a lot of stuff going on."
“We had a coaching change last season as well in Sevilla [but] it was a little different story,” the 20-year-old added. “We kind of saw it coming. This time, I didn’t really see it coming. It is basically the same feeling. We feel bad because you were there on the court and you didn’t make the things happen so it’s tough.”
Rambis has already spent a good amount of time helping tutor Porzingis, who had hit a bit of a funk, according to Phil Jackson.
After scoring in double figures in 13 straight games in January, Porzingis scored a total of 36 points during a four-game stretch. However, he has since scored 17, 21 and 20 points in the past three games.
“Well, Kristaps is one of the guys that I think was fatigued during the season,” Jackson said in an interview with MSG. “I think he really stopped getting a push out of his game. He ended up taking shots that weren’t good shots, but shots that were open but they weren’t good attempts, know what I mean? So we are trying to get him back to doing the right things with his feet, taking the right shots.”
Jackson hopes Rambis will turn things around after the All-Star break and lead Porzingis to his first postseason. But Jackson has a big decision to make. Not only must Jackson figure out who the right coach is for the Knicks right now but, perhaps more important, who will be the right coach to continue developing Porzingis, the franchise’s gem.
Porzingis said he didn’t really understand why the move was made, but Knicks officials made sure to check on him after Fisher was let go.
“Well, when he was in Europe, he changed a couple of coaches in a year," teammate and friend Sasha Vujacic said. "So he knows the mindset. He is getting everything pretty much in his rookie year from highs and lows, and he is a very smart kid. He is learning very fast and it is his time now. It is his time to excel."
"Don’t worry about K.P.," Vujacic added. "He’s good. He loves basketball too much to worry about him."