Storyline: Kevin Durant Free Agency

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Nets the front-runner in KD chase?

Now the Nets are reportedly “gaining confidence” they can land Durant, with Kendrick Perkins flatly saying on ESPN that Brooklyn is in the driver’s seat to sign his former Thunder teammate. “I think they’re the front-runner. I absolutely do. I think the Nets are the front-runner to land KD,” Perkins said on “The Jump,” with reporter Brian Windhorst joining in and saying Perkins was not the only person involved with the NBA expressing that view.

Kevin Durant is reportedly down to deciding between the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors in free agency. “KD still has, whether it’s staying in Golden State or leaving, the teams that are pursuing him, the teams that are going to pay him a max deal…essentially let him dictate the kind of contract he wants—that hasn’t changed,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday. “They all just expect next year he’ll be a very expensive redshirt, probably starting at around $38 million a year. “I’m told KD is doing a lot of soul-searching right now, stepping back from the injury and processing all of this. For KD, he can go back to Golden State on a five-year, $200 million-plus deal. That gives him absolute assurance coming off this Achilles injury. Maybe it gives him something else to think about staying in Golden State. But Brooklyn and the Knicks are very much in the fight.”

Nets skeptical of signing Kyrie Irving?

The question is if they can’t land Durant, do they still want Irving? Especially if they have to lose D’Angelo Russell — their own 23-year-old homegrown All-Star — to get him? It’s a question that has turned into a civil war among the fan base. It also has become an internal debate the Nets are having right now. The Post has confirmed Brooklyn might have qualms about signing the enigmatic Irving if he isn’t bringing the injured Durant with him.

ESPN’s Jay Williams, a Durant friend and a partner with Durant’s manager Rich Kleiman on “The Boardroom’’ told The Post it’s too early for the Warriors superstar to figure out what the injury means for his free-agent future. Williams has spoken with Durant since the devastating injury. “I think Kevin right now is still trying to deal with post-surgery,’’ Williams said Tuesday at a Madison Avenue Draft event. “That’s his first and foremost thing. You do what you do to your Achilles on that stage, it takes a minute to recalibrate. You can’t just go back to business. But Kevin has to make the best decision for Kevin. I’ve told him that. Rich Kleiman has told him that.”

In the past, Williams was outspoken in wondering if the Knicks were a good fit for Zion Williamson because of owner James Dolan. But Williams, a Jersey product, declined to weigh in on Durant’s fit as a Knick. “Kevin coming back (in Game 5) shows he’s kind of like the people’s champ,’’ Williams said. “He always wants to win no matter what. He’ll sacrifice his body. I think it’s now time for Kevin to do what’s in the best interest of Kevin Durant.’’

If Green and Thompson both sign max deals in the next two summers, the Warriors will face a 2020-21 cap hit of about $110 million for Green, Thompson, and Curry alone. That’s not even including Durant, were he to stick around. The Warriors wouldn’t have anything more than draft picks and salary-cap exceptions to fill out the roster around their aging core. It’s why they’ve worked so hard to keep Durant; they’re going to face these challenges no matter what, the question is whether it happens with or without Durant, and how expensive it gets. League sources, to no surprise, expect the Warriors to offer full, five-year max contracts to both Klay and KD this summer. It would be a shocker if Thompson didn’t re-sign. As for KD, perhaps the fifth year could make him think twice about leaving considering how ruptured Achilles injuries have ruined careers before.

Lacob would have to pay a pretty penny to keep those four together. Since they were in the tax three of the past four seasons, the Warriors could have to pay the repeater tax over the next two seasons, which could induce a luxury tax bill of more than $150 million in each season—and that’s for a roster without Durant for at least a year, and little flexibility to add secondary pieces around the core. It’s unrealistic for the Warriors to keep all four players and build a deep roster that can effectively ease their load to keep them healthy deep into the postseason, which goes toward the idea that the one to go may have to be Draymond.

The Knicks, it is believed by some around the league, will continue to try to sign Durant. But the injury has at least jumbled up this offseason as of now. The executive thought Durant was going to New York before Game 5 but is no longer sure. Maybe Durant opts in for the last year on his contract at $31.5 million (The Athletic’s Warriors beat reporter Anthony Slater called this the least likely outcome). Maybe he re-signs with the Warriors at the five-year, $221 million max. Or he decides to leave anyway. The Nets and Clippers lurk as possible destinations too.

Second, did this mark the end of the Warriors’ dynasty? Not only do the Warriors have questions about Thompson. Kevin Durant is recovering from a surgically repaired right Achilles tendon. The Warriors otherwise have limited purchasing power and a No. 28 pick to bolster their team. Nonetheless, Thompson said that “Klay and Kevin will both be back to wreak havoc among the league.” Thompson also added “the Warriors are far from done.” As for Durant’s free agency? “I always have faith he’ll stay. This is the second-best organization you can play for. Of course, you know what the best one is,” said Thompson who played for the Showtime Lakers and remains a radio analyst for the team’s flagship station. “Why leave a great situation like Golden State? These guys are still going to be championship contenders for years to come.”
1 week ago via ESPN

Durant was on the line, FaceTiming him from New York, where he’s recovering from surgery on his torn Achilles. “I heard them talking,” said Klay’s father, Mychal Thompson, said of the conversation. “But I don’t think they’d want me to divulge it.” Durant was probably the only person in the world who could relate to exactly what Thompson was feeling in that moment. His dad knew to give them space. “They were encouraging each other to come back strong,” Mychal Thompson said. “They got unfinished business.”

Durant, Leonard and Davis are the three best players available and are the only three stars the Clippers are actively pursuing. The Clippers are firmly in contention for Leonard and/or Durant, but Durant’s torn Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night — as well as Leonard’s Finals run with the Raptors and Davis’ recently revised trade list — has somewhat clouded the offseason forecast. That is compounded by the fact that missing out on the stars they want will not force the Clippers into a reactionary decision — be it a signing or trade — this offseason, league sources told The Athletic.

Warriors to offer Kevin Durant a max contract?

Multiple league sources told Yahoo Sports that they expect the Warriors to still offer Kevin Durant a max extension, regardless of the injury. The only argument against doing so is the commitment to a player who may never be the same. Then again, the alternative is alienating Durant further by offering anything less than the full max and potentially losing him with no sufficient alternative in free agency for 2020 and beyond.

Likewise, multiple league sources also told Yahoo Sports they believe the Knicks will still offer an injured Durant a max deal when free agency opens June 30. “What you don’t know is what promises have been made,” one source told Yahoo Sports. “Have the Knicks and Clippers already made such promises? If not, are they willing to get two and a half to three years out of a guy on a four-year contract? Achilles tears take a year out of you and put your other Achilles at a much greater risk.”

Of course, the hope for Durant — and for anyone who enjoys NBA basketball — is that the injury isn’t as severe as feared. But if it is indeed a torn Achilles — and if Durant declines his $31.5 million player option for next season — any team interested in signing Durant would have to be comfortable with him possibly being sidelined for the first year of his contract. Would the Knicks, who have enough cap space to sign two max free agents, be comfortable with that scenario? We’ll find out in a few weeks, but there are indeed some members of the organization who would consider offering Durant a contract this summer, per SNY sources. Durant is eligible for a four-year, $141 million max contract from New York or any other team looking to sign him away from the Warriors.

Although a torn Achilles could cost Durant the entire 2019-20 season, Marks said he spoke with three teams, and all of them remain willing to pursue KD in free agency: “I said … If you had cap space, would you go out and sign Kevin Durant knowing that he will likely be out maybe the whole year? And the resounding answer was ‘yes.’ Each of the teams also said that they wouldn’t even put any injury language in there for maybe years three and four to protect. So, yes, there will be a marketplace for Kevin Durant this summer, either with a team for four years, $141 million dollars or even back in Golden State here.”

Kevin Durant is one of the top free agents on the market, and is expected to give the Knicks strong consideration if he decides to leave Golden State. If Durant asked Charles Barkley about signing with the Knicks as a free agent, here is what Barkley would tell him: “Well I’d say, ‘Kevin you’re one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen. You’ve also got some of the thinnest skin I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if you’re made for New York City,” Barkley said on a conference call to promote American Century Championship golf tournament. “I think that would be the toughest aspect.

“If he’s arguing with these teenagers online, he’s not going to be able to deal with that New York media. He’s a great person, he’s a great player. I don’t think he has the mental makeup to play in New York, that’s just my personal opinion.” The sensitivity Barkley references is a widely-held, if subjective, view of Durant, of course. The TNT analyst is likely referencing Durant’s use of a burner account on social media to respond to critics and other engagement with critics on social media.

Carlos Boozer: But to help in that regard, they can have a chance to make some real noise, especially depending on what happens with the Golden State Warriors. There’s all this news about KD (Kevin Durant) and who knows what happens with Boogie (DeMarcus Cousins). I’m hearing that Klay (Thompson) might want to go to the Lakers. I don’t know why they would break up, because they got a rock star thing going on over there that reminds me of the Bulls with (Michael) Jordan and (Scottie) Pippen in the ’90s of going to the Finals every year, but whatever happens, if that marriage gets divorced and some of those players leave, and if any of those free agents want to come to Utah and join with Donovan Mitchell and the rest of that crew, they could really make some noise. I like that foundation, I just thought they were a player away, like an All-Star player away from being a real contender.

Kendrick Perkins, who was a teammate of Durant’s in Oklahoma City and played for Doc Rivers in Boston, further fueled the Durant-to-the-Clippers talk when he sat down with Kristine Leahy on her show “Fair Game.” “Don’t be surprised if K.D. signs with the Clippers,” Perkins said. “Everybody is screaming New York but do not be surprised if K.D. signs and plays for Doc. I don’t even have to recruit him. He likes the organization. He likes Doc Rivers.”

Kevin Durant is “100 percent undecided” on where he’s playing next, his manager @RichKleiman says at The #WSJFuture Of Everything Festival. “He really doesn’t know, and I really don’t know.”

So I checked with owner Joe Lacob via text on Tuesday afternoon, pointing out that he’s been quite clear about paying what it takes to keep this team together and asking if anything has changed or if his stance is even stronger after the Warriors’ Western Conference triumph. “The season is still ongoing,” Lacob responded. “We are not finished. I have no new ideas or data for you. We love Klay and KD and intend to attempt to re-sign them. Period. I am confident about BOTH of them. “But it is their choice to do what is best for them. They have earned that right. Our goal is to keep our team together. We are pretty good.”

Clippers in the mix for Kevin Durant?

As for the bigger-picture matter of Durant’s future: I am unafraid to announce, with no trace of hot-takery, that firm predictions about what Durant will do when free agency starts in 40 days are ill-advised. Within the last month, very smart and plugged-in people I have consulted say that the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as an equally dangerous threat to the Knicks to sign Durant away from Golden State. And I believe it.

Durant’s manager, Rich Kleiman, told Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay that contrary to other reports the Warriors forward is “100 percent undecided” on where he is playing next year. “That is 100 percent undecided and I’m waiting on Kevin and that’s the truth,” he said. “I think there’s a feeling this thing is like war games and everybody is playing chess years out, but when somebody gets to the level of basketball like that you can’t juggle focus like that … I think it’s frustrating, honestly, at times.”

For now it is all speculation, but there were anonymous whispers asking if it was true that the Knicks and Durant had already held a secret meeting, that a handshake deal was already in place and that endorsement deals were already ironed out. It wasn’t just talk about the Knicks securing the services of Durant, but that the elite scorer is bolting the Warriors despite all of the success. No one would put a name on their thoughts, but they did at least in their minds, figure out the hardest part of the Durant free agency question: why would he leave the Warriors?

The Knicks are considering packaging their No. 3 pick to New Orleans in a trade for Anthony Davis. It would seem Durant would prefer a ready-made superstar as sidekick, but who knows if he’d rather have Barrett and Kyrie Irving instead — especially considering Durant’s rave reviews of Barrett’s southpaw advantage. “Getting crafty with the left,” Durant said, watching the video on a laptop. “See lefties are tough to guard, man. They can go right better than righties can go left and so a left-hander is hard to guard. He’s a lefty that uses his right, which is gonna help him. “Shoot the J, OK. Man, he’s athletic, man. He can play out top. That’s the thing. You got to be able to play out top, conduct the offense.

Joe Lacob: My great hope is that Klay, as with Draymond and – frankly – KD; all of them who are guys that you’re referring to. …And frankly, I love DeMarcus Cousins too. I mean, he’s another guy who (he’d like to keep). (But) we can only do what we can do within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement. We really like our players – each and every one of them. Draymond has been with us since the beginning. There’s a certain place in my heart for him. Same with Klay. And all I was trying to say by that is that I really personally like them a lot for what they bring to the table. That’s a personal comment, and I really want to see them stay – to be Warriors for life and hopefully build statues for them.

Team officials and rival executives alike have been predicting Kevin Durant’s departure in free agency for months now – cue Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, “New York…concrete jungle where dreams are made of…” But there’s a recent sense in Warriors circles that maybe he’ll think twice about joining them on this trek across the Bay Bridge, that this recent stretch of domination and fan appreciation might be the kind of thing that convinces him to – cue LeBron James’ personal motto that hasn’t exactly panned out in Laker Land – RWTW (Roll With The Winners).

Then again, there was this sighting after Game 5 that is sure to warm the hearts of Warriors fans: Rich Kleiman, Durant’s New York-born-and-bred right-hand man and business manager whose ties to the Knicks have been well chronicled, was wearing one of those team-issued yellow Warriors t-shirts. “(Durant) has been great,” Looney said. “He’s been a great leader. He’s been talking. He’s been one of the anchors of our defense and our offense, and he’s been doing it on both ends of the floor. You saw after (Game 2 against the Clippers), you saw him just flip a switch and he’s been taking over. We’ve been feeding off of him, following his energy and he’s been doing a great job.”

Thompson said he thinks “it’s not a question’’ Durant has a thin skin and it could be a small factor in concerns about playing in New York. “What he’s been through in his life, he thinks he can handle anything,’’ Thompson said. “But I do wonder if he is concerned about New York as a good fit for that. But those are minor parts. The bigger story is what is at play. In exchange for media criticism, more media interaction and media issues, he could get the final story that perfectly fits his legacy in the grand scheme and it could be worth it. If he went to New York it wouldn’t be about anything small. It will be about the big picture, the end of a story he started at [the age of] 9.’’

Guy Fieri isn’t shy about wanting to prevent another move by Durant, telling Willis that he’s willing to chip in to ensure the two-time NBAchampion doesn’t leave the Bay Area. “Call me, KD. Tell me what you need,” Fieri said before promising to get hands-on in his recruitment. “If there is a such thing as an inspiration dinner that I need to cook to bring all the dignitaries together — all the players, his team, his mom, you name it — well, consider that meal cooked.”
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