Lonzo Ball seems like a nice, well-mannered guy.
Yet probably half the NBA-following world wants him to fail. No fault of his, but as one NBA team exec put it, “the father’s an idiot.” So blame LaVar, not Lonzo.
Which brings us to Kristaps Porzingis.
You can choose your friends but not your family and Porzingis has his brother, Janis, serving as his representative within his agent’s firm. If you even remotely follow the Knicks, you have heard about the shots fired across the bow from brother dearest.
Before his real damage control of 37 points in Friday’s 120-107 Garden rout of Phoenix, Kristaps was in containment mode, insisting his brother’s comments were “taken out of context” as part of a larger interview. Long or short chat, big brother didn’t do Kristaps any favors insinuating the star will leave if not treated like royalty.
“That’s my brother and my agent,” Porzingis said.
But Porzingis applied a soothing balm to Knicks’ fans’ frayed nerves — with his play and his words.
“I love New York and I see myself as a Knick for a long, long time,” Porzingis said. “They shouldn’t be worrying about that.”
Those were the words. The play was non-stop. He produced an electrifying one-hand, putback dunk of a Tim Hardaway Jr. miss at 9:44 of the third quarter, a move that prompted “MVP” chants. Then there was a fourth quarter sequence on which he blocked Josh Jackson emphatically, rushed the other way and dunked even more emphatically as part of a three-point play.
“He ran the floor in about three seconds,” Michael Beasley said.
“I loved that play,” Porzingis said. “Honestly, just the energy that was in the Garden at that moment, it was unbelievable. I had to calm myself down to knock down the free throw.”
Still, worry was the order Thursday after Janis’ threatening comments went public.
Janis noted the Garden is packed nightly with fans mostly coming to see his brother. Kristaps, 22, has shown every indication of being a superstar in the making. But can we wait until he gets there before being told to kneel and kiss his ring? And that’s not yet a championship ring. They don’t present rings for the 63-101 record fashioned in Porzingis’ first two seasons.
Porzingis is likeable and beloved by Knicks fans, who have done a 180 from draft night. When his name was called that night, we were treated to endless reruns of irate devotees who reacted as if the commissioner announced: “With the No. 4 pick in the 2015 draft, the New York Knickerbockers select the Ebola virus for their fans.”
Porzingis won them over. But he could lose them just as quickly. Too much too soon can be looked at as a villainous trait. And fans won’t boo Janis Porzingis. Fans probably couldn’t pick him out of a crowd of three.
Over a decade ago, in 2004, Derek Jeter, in a miserable 0-of-32 slump, was booed at Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter. Booed. Yankee Stadium. If Jeter could be booed in New York, anyone could be booed in New York. And don’t think Porzingis is immune.
Porzingis has not sniffed the playoffs. Or a .500 record. When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, he was seen as sliced bread, the wheel and fire rolled into one. By the end of his Knicks tenure, half the fan base thought of buying him a ticket out of town.
The Knicks have tried to keep Porzingis happy. In some small ways, the third-year player already behaves like a superstar. Readers and fans don’t care, we get it, but the media wait for Porzingis to comment after games has become a ritual as enjoyable as pulling fingernails. Think of sitting at a traffic light for 10 minutes. Now triple that time. Annoying, huh?
Had Janet Leigh’s shower lasted as long as Porzingis’ postgame clean-ups, “Psycho” would have run longer than “Gone With the Wind.”
Patrick Ewing routinely waited for the media to enter the locker room, win or lose. He spoke. He left. And few Knicks ever took the shots Ewing endured in his career. But he was there every game. And Ewing was a superstar.
Ewing and Porzingis have one thing in common, though. Neither has a ring.