Knicks coach David Fizdale and his wife, Natasha, have moved on from Latvia to a seaside resort in Croatia, but the five days spent in Kristaps Porzingis’ home country thrilled Knicks brass, according to sources.
The visit that concluded this weekend featured basketball talk and relaxation in Liepaja’s special saunas by the beach.
Porzingis has spent his entire offseason ACL rehab in Europe, training for more than two months at the Real Madrid facility instead of in New York. Since last training camp, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have attempted to smooth over any bitter feelings from the past that caused Porzingis to miss his 2017 exit interview with the fired Phil Jackson.
Fizdale’s hiring raised some eyebrows in the Porzingis camp because they are friends with the Gasols. Fizdale had an epic feud with Memphis center Marc Gasol, the Spanish All-Star center, that led to Fizdale’s firing after one season and one month.
Knicks brass is happy how it all went down.
“It was important for Coach Fizdale to spend time with Kristaps and his family,” one NBA source who has spoken to Perry told The Post. “It was an opportunity for both the coach and player to get to know each other on a more personal level and also talk basketball. It’s part of establishing the type of culture and interaction necessary to building a strong foundation for this team in both the short and longer term.”
In a move that likely is regretted, neither former coach Jeff Hornacek, Mills nor Perry visited Porzingis in Europe last offseason — not even to watch a game of the European Championships. Since getting hired, Fizdale has bowled over his bosses with his ability to connect with the young players, according to sources.
Natasha Sen Fizdale, Fizdale’s wife, who runs a creative marketing company, gave a shout-out on social media Sunday as they departed for Croatia after spending time with Porzingis and his two brothers, agent Janis Porzingis and manager Martins.
“Big thank you to @kporzee @porzingis @mporzee for being so hospitable to us in your home city and country. We loved it all, the city, the FOOD, the people, the beaches, the LATVIAN SAUNA…After hours of a totally detoxifying and rejuvenating treatment, we walked over to the pristine beach it sat on. It was unlike any other spa or sauna we’ve ever experienced (and that’s our thing).”
On Latvian television, Fizdale hinted Porzingis has been kept abreast of their moves before they became public. Porzingis played against free-agent signee Mario Hezonja in the Spanish League.
“We’ve had some really good conversations,” Fizdale said. “We talked about the kids we drafted [Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson]. I’ve tried to make sure that he’s — we’ve been in communication on every decision that we’ve made.”
On Sunday, Porzingis released the third installment of his online documentary titled, “Porzingis’ Comeback.” He explained his decision to train at Real Madrid.
“They allowed us to use their stuff for the rehab,” Porzingis said. “I chose Madrid because I was looking at different options and this one was the best for me because of their facilities obviously and just overall what they have available here is one of the top in the world.”
During the latest installment, the Knicks are never mentioned, and Porzingis is outfitted in only Adidas gear. Porzingis will be a restricted free agent in 2019, as the Knicks would be hard-pressed to deliver him a contract extension this summer unless they make moves that open up more cap space in 2019. The Knicks’ goal is to have cap space for one max player in 2019.
Janis Porzingis said the fact Porzingis can speak Spanish fluently and that his longtime physio, Manuel Valdivieso, is from Spain were factors in choosing Real Madrid as the home base this summer.
“The facility is very, very impressive,” Janis said in the documentary. “It’s built for the best in Europe for football and basketball.”
The Knicks will have a better idea of a Porzingis timetable in September — which will be seven months since February’s surgery. Sources have indicated there’s still a chance of Porzingis being back around Christmas.
In reflecting on the series of exercises and limited basketball activities he’s doing, Porzingis said he’s “healing really fast” and “jumping a little,” but not running yet. He’s taking shots and doing upper-body weight work with the goal of not putting on too much bulk to prevent stress on his surgically repaired left knee.
“Some moments the training is boring and doing the same thing over and over again,” Porzingis said. “Keep working on the strength of the leg and doing these drills that, without the injury, would be really easy. But this injury is also mental. That’s the main part for me — to stay fresh for me mentally, to wake up every morning and try to work on this leg.
“I’m getting shots up in the gym, moving my feet, jumping a bit but not allowed to run yet,” Porzingis added. “I’m taking time with that, making sure the muscles are back to normal before I start running. I’m walking an hour at a good pace, doing upper body, lifting weights. Not too obsessed with that. I don’t want to put too much stress on the knee coming out of the surgery. The main thing is working on the whole body and biomechanics that it’s strong when I come back. Obviously, I want to come back and feel the same athletically as I did before the injury and even better. I’m healing really fast and we’re doing all the right things that we don’t rush anything. It’s been really, really smooth so far.”
Porzingis is also working in Madrid with Larry Sanders, a Michigan-based athletic performance coach who works with the basketball program at Madonna University. Sanders said a big focus is getting both of Porzingis’ feet to explode equally.
“He’s going to come back a different monster,” Sanders said in the installment. “His skills are more like a small forward. He was hard to deal with before, but he’ll be much harder to deal with after. He’s got the sense of urgency of a veteran going after his last contract.”
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