Kristaps Porzingis seemed light and breezy as he sat down for his first media day as a Washington Wizard. Ever affable, he opened by joking with a reporter about his new beard. He sounded relaxed; he looked tan. He had spent most of his summer in his native Latvia with family, training and competing with his national team in two FIBA World Cup qualifiers. Before that, there was a month in Spain.
But — and you would be forgiven for not noticing on his 7-foot-3 frame — Porzingis not only seemed lighter, he is lighter. The Wizards’ biggest big man is a teeny bit smaller these days. He lost seven pounds, and he feels the difference.
“The extra weight doesn’t really help me,” Porzingis said. “I need to be strong and that’s how I’ll feel the best.”
Porzingis’s focus heading into his first summer after joining the Wizards at the trade deadline last season was his body. The former all-star played just 51 games last season in part because of a bone bruise in his right knee and hasn’t played more than 57 in a season since 2016-17.
Improving his endurance was the primary goal. Porzingis’s game doesn’t require him to be a hulking, physical bruiser, but by getting down to a trim 235 pounds and gaining muscle in his legs, he hopes to be able to stay on the court for a full season and be more mobile on the defensive end.
The Wizards are banking on it as they prepare for a campaign in which the overarching aim is simple, if you ask President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard.
“Just continue to improve,” Sheppard said.
Improvement for the Wizards means not missing the play-in tournament for the second straight year, staying healthy and showing that Bradley Beal and Porzingis can flourish as a core duo.
Porzingis begins his seventh year in the NBA as the third key figure the Wizards have paired with Beal, who signed a five-year, $251 million contract over the summer.
Together, the two are owed $77 million in 2022-23.
Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Tuesday the 27-year-old Latvian is beginning the season playing without restrictions — gone are the minute caps and the need to sit out the second half of back-to-back games that Porzingis dealt with last season as he recovered from his knee injury.
Now the question is about the chemistry between Porzingis and Beal. The pair never shared the court last season because Beal was rehabbing an injured wrist by the time Porzingis arrived. Over the summer, Porzingis was in Europe and Beal began working out in late July or early August. Beal spent his offseason welcoming his third son and recovering from torn ligaments in his wrist.
They have played together in “three or four pickup games,” Porzingis said Friday. The rest will be figured out as the season unfolds.
“He’s dangerous. He’s dangerous, man,” Beal said, offering his first impressions of Porzingis. “I’m jealous I’m not 7-3. I’m a whole foot shorter, but I’m excited. Because he’s a specimen. He’s probably the best big I’ll play with in my career — to see his size, his versatility, his ability to stretch the floor, spread the floor. His ability to pass is underrated. And his defensive capabilities are underrated, too; he’s another guy I think had a false narrative about him. I think he’ll prove a lot of people wrong. I’m excited to see.”
Playing Porzingis alongside Beal gives the Wizards the opportunity to stretch the court with a guard who can drive and a big capable of shooting three-pointers. Both Kyle Kuzma and Beal mentioned Porzingis’s passing ability as an added bonus.
“It’s one thing to play against somebody and prepare for them, but to see them every day and watch how they move on your side of the ball, it’s been a pleasant surprise,” Kuzma said.
Porzingis was competing with the Latvian national team when the Wizards held a minicamp in Los Angeles toward the end of the summer. He and Deni Avdija, who was competing with the Israeli national team, were the only two players missing — 14 others, including the six new faces Washington welcomed this offseason — volunteered to participate in the team-bonding event.
“Every night we had guys doing something together as a team. That’s the most important thing,” said Kuzma, a former Laker. “Me playing on a championship team, I just remember everybody being cool, everybody being together at all types of times, though day and night.”
If he felt he missed out, Porzingis didn’t mention it Friday. His goal for the season is to exceed expectations both for the Wizards and himself.
He landed at No. 86 in ESPN’s series of the top 100 players in the league ahead of the season, and it rankled him. The Wizards are expected to be in the realm of a play-in tournament team again — depending on how Beal and Porzingis mesh.
“Especially this year, I’m coming in with a chip on my shoulder because of the ESPN rank, the this, that, it’s kind of — okay,” Porzingis said. “I use it as gasoline, as energy. I’m looking forward to reminding everybody what I can do on both ends of the floor.”