By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If the New York Knicks are the NBA's stormiest soap opera, then Latvian talent Kristaps Porzingis is the central love interest, a lone symbol of better days ahead for the franchise.
The 21-year-old second-year forward with the projected bright future might be the only main character in the Knicks organization untainted by the culture of dysfunction.
New York's greatest challenge will be in keeping him that way, which could prove an increasingly difficult task as the losses and storylines compound.
"We're not where we wanted to be," Porzingis told reporters after Monday's 114-105 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers dropped the Knicks to 27-43 on the season and seven games back of a playoff spot. "We have to keep fighting until the end."
But there is evidence that the even keel Porzingis may be souring on the fight.
On Sunday, Porzingis told the New York Post of his team's failed season: "It was pretty easy to tell from the inside that we're not that good of a team. We can win games based on our talent, but it's not going to last long."
Barring a late-season surge, the Knicks look likely to miss their fourth straight post-season.
In Porzingis, who is averaging 18 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks per game this season, the Knicks see 7-foot-3 inches of possibility and they cling to the hope of their up-and-comer even as everything around him seems to be sinking.
"He's going to be a superstar, I don't think there's any doubt," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Monday's game.
"But there's not a lot of patience (in New York) from what I remember when I played (there). "We're going to have to allow him to be great. I think he will be and I think that's when all the other players will keep getting better as well."
The Knicks feel miles away from any such day.
Their 2016-17 campaign reads as one long drama-filled plot loaded with power struggles and infighting: Carmelo Anthony trade rumors and criticisms from Knicks President Phil Jackson; Derrick Rose's no-show for a game that earned him a $200,000 fine; and former player Charles Oakley arrested after a scuffle with security at Madison Square Garden stemming from his feud with owner James Dolan.
Multiple Knicks players have been critical of the team’s notoriously complex triangle offense, which appears to be imposed from Jackson on first-year coach Jeff Hornacek.
"We’ve got nothing but ourselves – the people that are in this locker room," Rose told Reuters of the Knicks' "tough times."
Porzingis may be the only one who stays in the locker room for the long haul as Rose is a free agent at season's end when Anthony could again be on the trade block, and Jackson’s future remains unclear.
The soft shooting touch of Porzingis is the closest thing the Knicks have to certainty and they must handle it with care.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)