Knicks heaping praise — not millions — on Porzingis for now

Knicks brass is paying off Kristaps Porzingis in encouraging words rather than extra millions.

The Knicks have until mid-October to give Porzingis a $158 million contract extension but are not planning to do so.

At Thursday’s press conference, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry said Porzingis understands the predicament. Brass has taken great lengths to convince him he’s still “The Franchise.” The Knicks also refused to provide a Porzingis return timetable, even though Mills said recently his tests in September upon his return to New York would provide more clarity.

The Knicks hope to re-sign Porzingis when he is a restricted free agent in 2019. That way, the team could climb over the salary cap. An extension now would take up precious cap room. Doing it next summer would open up $10 million in cap space.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to stay connected with [the Porzingis camp],” Perry said. “It’s a long-term thing. Obviously you mentioned the point of the cap space in July. But we just feel like we’re in a real good space with him, as well as he is with us. And we’re going to do the right thing by him and this organization.”

Mills said they have made it clear to Porzingis the Knicks’ orbit still revolves around him.

“He’ll never feel like he’s not a cornerstone part of what we’re trying to do here,” Mills said. “He understands that. We make that crystal clear to him and his representation.”

Porzingis, who tore his ACL in February, returned from Europe on Sunday after doing his rehab at Real Madrid. He has undergone testing, but Mills was vague — perhaps to avoid putting pressure on the 7-foot-3 Latvian.

Sources have indicated the earliest he could be back is around Christmas, but the club seems in no rush because the Knicks are content to participate in another lottery.

“We feel good about how the rehab process is going,” Mills said. “There are obviously different steps we have to go through in the process to see where he is. We feel good about the direction he is going and how he’s coming along.

“As we go through the process with him, there are a series of tests that are constantly taking place to see where he is in his rehab. And as he meets certain milestones we will continue his rehab process all toward the direction of when he feels 100 percent comfortable and we feel 100 percent comfortable and we’re not taking any risk with him, then he’ll be ready to come back.”

David Fizdale won’t guarantee 2018 lottery pick Kevin Knox a starting nod, but he’s seen growth since his rousing summer league in mid-July. And he’s becoming a leader/mentor to a fellow rookie, center Mitchell Robinson, upon Fizdale’s urging.

“I see them both making an impact, but I can’t guarantee no starting spots now,” Fizdale said. “I see [growth] every day [in Knox]. Every day he’s doing something better or different that he wasn’t doing the day before. The kid is so diligent. He’s regimented. He really has a professional approach already.”

Fizdale recently texted Knox to tell him he should step up as a leader with Robinson, who took a year off after high school.

“[Fizdale] said to Kevin: ‘You had a year in Kentucky, so you had a different set of experiences than Mitchell, who didn’t go to college,’” Mills relayed. “’So you’ve got to help lead him.’”

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