"The NBA is a small world and you kinda know people from afar. But this trip is more about getting to know him intimately. Know his family, know where he's from, kinda get to see what made him 'Kristaps,'" Fizdale said in an interview with Latvian television network LSM.
Fizdale and his wife, Natasha Sen-Fizdale, arrived in Porzingis' hometown of Liepaja, Latvia earlier this week. They've spent time with Porzingis and his family, including brothers Janis and Martins.
"We've talked about his rehab. We've talked about how we want to play, our style of play. Talked a lot about the culture that we're building. We wanna make sure that he comes back strong and healthy (from his ACL surgery) and we don't want to rush it. 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."
Hometown roots 🤝 pic.twitter.com/n6RewLJV4u— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) July 26, 2018
Porzingis has been rehabbing from February ACL surgery in Europe during the offseason. Fizdale, who had a poor relationship with Memphis Grizzlies star Marc Gasol at the time he was fired as head coach, has said that it's important for him to establish a strong rapport with Porzingis, the face of the Knicks' franchise. Part of that process included Fizdale traveling to Latvia.
"That's what's been great about this trip. You can dive right into it and really get to feel the culture and see his basketball world. See how people treat him in the city," Fizdale said.
Fizdale's visit is also significant because Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with then-president Phil Jackson, then-GM Steve Mills and former coach Jeff Hornacek due to frustration over drama and dysfunction surrounding the franchise. None of the Knicks hierarchy visited Porzingis in Europe over the 2017 offseason. Fizdale's visit is the first by a Knicks coach or executive in the past two offseasons.
Porzingis, who is expected to be out until at least December while rehabbing an ACL tear, is eligible for a five-year $157 million extension starting this summer. The Knicks and Porzingis did not have any serious talks regarding an extension as of last month. It is unclear if the club plans to offer Porzingis an extension during the offseason.
Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry have made it clear that Porzingis is an important part of the team's future. But Mills has said that the club plans to have enough money to sign a max free agent in 2019.
The club needs to shed salary to be in position to sign a max player next summer. Waiting until the summer of 2019 to sign Porzingis to an extension would create an extra $10 million in cap space for New York.