In early July, the Latvian national basketball team will be in Serbia trying to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They have been invited to one of three qualifying tournaments and will be attempting to knock off Serbia, Puerto Rico, the Czech Republic and other teams in that tournament to punch their ticket to Rio.
The question is, will Kristaps Porzingis be playing for the Latvian team?
If Knicks interim coach Kurt Rambis has his way, Latvia will be competing without its best player. Instead, Kristaps Porzingis will be busy lifting weights and working on his conditioning in Greenburgh, New York.
“If I had my choice, I think it’s obviously what I would want,” Rambis said Friday after the Knicks’ practice at Georgetown University. “I understand players’ commitments to their country and their desire to play for their country. But from a selfish standpoint, looking at it purely from a Knicks standpoint, yeah, we’d want him here working with us the whole time [in the summer].”
Porzingis hasn’t made up his mind.
“It’s still up in the air,” he said. “Right now, trying to focus on the season. Once the season is over, I will have some time to make a decision. Sit down with family and my agent. We’ll make that decision. It’s an important thing for Latvia. I’m a proud Latvian, and I want to represent my country. So I have to really think about it and make a decision.”
Porzingis is Latvia’s best player, so there is added pressure for him to play. Just as we have seen with the Gasol brothers, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and other international stars, the lure to play for the homeland is powerful. Teams cite injury risks — as happened with Dante Exum playing for Australia last summer — but the reality is they are just as likely to be injured in workouts or summer pickup games. This is really about control and being able to keep a player focused on what the team wants him to focus on.
Latvia is not favorited to come out of that group, but without their best player their chances of advancing to Rio fall close to nil. The Knicks season will end in mid-April, then Porzingis will have some time to think it over.