Storyline: Kevin Durant Free Agency

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Yet it’s likewise undeniably true that Steph and Giannis are buddies who are both represented by the same agency (Octagon) and share a mutual admiration that has resulted in Curry and Antetokounmpo selecting each other first overall with the No. 1 overall picks as captains in the first two All-Star drafts. I can promise you, furthermore, that the Warriors have internally mused about a run at Giannis — however futile it may prove to be — in the event they can’t convince Kevin Durant to re-sign this summer. Trying to sign the most attractive free agent available is on the first page of the Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s playbook.

The Warriors are favored to three-peat this season and feel their team, buoyed by the addition of Boogie Cousins, is in a good place as they enter the final seven weeks of the regular season. Durant’s future, they claim, is not a dark cloud hanging over their season. “We have no idea what he’s going to do,” said one team source. “Everyone wants him to stay. There’s not much more we can sell him on. If he leaves, we’ll think of it as being lucky to have him for three great years.”

Kevin​ Durant dominated​ Sunday’s All-Star Game​ while the​ buzz​ about his pending free​ agency simply dominated​​ All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. The general consensus among NBA executives, coaches and players is that if Durant were to leave the Golden State Warriors as a free agent in July, his most likely destination would be — wait for it — the New York Knicks. It gets better for fans of the team that plays at Madison Square Garden. The other big story coming out of Charlotte is that Knicks owner James Dolan, according to The Ringer’s Bill Simmons, is “courting offers” to sell the club.
2 weeks ago via ESPN

The New York Knicks used an image of rookie center Mitchell Robinson playing alongside the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant in a pitch to season-ticket holders, then deleted the picture to avoid the perception that the organization had an ulterior motive in including Durant, who will be a 2019 free agent, in the pitch. “Game action photos are used all the time for marketing purposes, but given everything going on, we took the precaution of taking the photo down,” the Knicks said in a statement Sunday night. “To be clear, it was one of several rotating photos on the website.”

This season is beyond a lost cause, so from a marketing perspective, the Knicks have to look towards the future. Still, they made a curious photo choice when asking season-ticket holders to renew before a Feb. 28 deadline. Durant was conveniently included.

It’s no secret he once tried recruiting Durant to the Clippers back in 2016-17. Knicks president Steve Mills was well aware of his Durant friendship when he obtained him in the Kristaps Porzingis blockbuster 11 days ago. Is it a coincidence the Knicks have already told Jordan they want him to be part of the future despite being on the last year of a one-year contract? When asked if Durant would be a good fit in New York, Jordan said, haltingly, “I mean, he won two championships with the Warriors so I mean…” He stopped and nodded.

Ballmer showcased that part of his personality for an influential crowd earlier this season, according to sources, when he accepted an invitation to speak at the Nike global sports marketing meetings on the company’s Beaverton, Ore. campus. There was no shortage of people in the room that day who have close ties to Durant, the 30-year-old who has been with the sneaker giant since the start of his NBA career and who re-upped on a 10-year deal with the potential to be worth $300 million in 2014.

Steph Curry was asked about Durant’s frustration after the game. “Honestly, I think it’s him not being able to control his own voice,” Curry said. “He’s focused on basketball, and that’s what he should do. We want to see that KD every day. What he can’t control is BS that happens in the media or people making the decision for him or all this other stuff. “In terms of him just playing basketball, focusing on what happens out there on the 94 feet, being there for us as teammates, and us being there for him, that’s what he can control. And I think he’s doing a great job of that.

Let us be frank, with the caveat that the choice lives inside the head of one guy who can and does change his mind: Insiders around the league think Kevin Durant is leaving the Warriors for the Knicks. Most people within the Warriors either think Durant is leaving or profess not to know one way or the other. His teammates recognize this reality, can handle it and merely want one outcome: Win a championship, absent too much drama. The main concern, at the moment, is whether he’ll commit in the short term to what he may have already left in the long term.

Sources say that Durant believed his besting of LeBron James in the 2017 Finals would get him hailed as the game’s top player, a mantle he’s craved for some time. While LeBron averaged a 33.6 point-per-game triple-double in that Finals, Durant was superior defensively and hit the series’ biggest shot right in the King’s face. Instead, there was no grand reordering of rankings, and only so much credit to be had for a dominant playoff run. KD, who was “tired of being second” way back in 2013, was still stuck there reputationally, even in ultimate victory. He was still behind LeBron in the eyes of pundits, basketball Twitter, and perhaps most importantly, at Nike, who’s employed Durant longer than any team.

Sources say teammates would understand if KD left what looks like perfection. It’s just a harder sell to the public writ large. What’s the PR-friendly reason for leaving a favorite that appears primed to reign for ages? KD’s catch-22, or catch-35 if you will: He’ll likely be criticized for ring avoidance by the same people who ripped him for ring chasing. None of this would be a problem if Durant tuned out criticism, but few are better known for bathing their own wounds in salt.

He is on a $22.9 million expiring deal and will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer, so the Knicks – who have hopes of signing Durant and another max star – may not be able to bring Jordan back. But they could also use the mid-level exception (almost $9 million per season) to sign Jordan this summer, so it’s certainly possible. The Knicks have another of Durant’s buddies – Royal Ivey – as an assistant coach. Ivey and Durant were teammates on the Thunder for two seasons. Durant once called Ivey his best friend in the league.

Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers remains outwardly confident that superstar forward Kevin Durant will decide to re-sign with the team this summer. “I feel like all our players are happy and want to stay with us and continue with us,” Myers said Monday when asked about Durant’s future. “That’s how I feel. But again, I’ve only worked in the NBA as an agent and in this capacity — I thought Jacob Evans was going to be a rotation guy. I don’t know.

Conversations with NBA insiders and executives paint a positive picture for the Knicks, too. Smith is a bit of a gamble — he didn’t excel in Dallas under coach Rick Carlisle — but he has plenty of athleticism and talent. The draft picks, especially if the Western Conference stays as tough as it is today, might turn into lottery selections. But the real win is the possibilities the deal allows for this summer. The Knicks now have enough cap space to sign two players to maximum contracts. The Knicks have been considered by a lot of executives the favorite to sign Kevin Durant, and the trade might signal their confidence that he’s on his way.
3 weeks ago via ESPN

The idea of Durant and Irving playing together in New York had been whispered about previously. But now that the Knicks have cleared a path to signing both of them outright, it has quickly exploded into full-on speculation. It has been thought for months that Durant’s most logical destination, should he choose to leave Golden State, would be to come East and join the Knicks. Several rival teams this week said that is their full expectation — and that was before the Knicks, clearly feeling confident about their chances, used Porzingis to push all their chips to the center of the table. None of this, of course, has any impact on Golden State’s thinking, sources said. Even if Durant went to team brass and said there was no chance he was coming back this summer — and, to be clear, that hasn’t happened — it’s not as if the Warriors would consider the possibility of trading him. Their plan, as it has been all season, is to go win a third straight title this spring, see what happens this summer and then act accordingly.

Nonetheless, the plan all along has been Durant and Irving, and the Knicks have officially opened up a path to sign them. Durant has wavered between staying or leaving all season, according to league sources. His manager, Rich Kleiman, is a native New Yorker and has even joked about someday running the Knicks. Also, Durant maintains a relationship with Perry from the lone year they spent together in Seattle, and Royal Ivey—whom Durant once called his “favorite teammate ever” and “best friend in the league”—is a Knicks assistant coach. Durant’s future could largely depend on Golden State’s results this season, but New York is at least an option. Now, the Knicks can pitch Durant on coming to New York and teaming up with a proven star—not a theoretical one, like Porzingis.

All around the league, executives who are paid handsomely to track this sort of thing had the same takeaway: The Knicks, who have been widely known to be targeting Durant for so long now and whose general manager (Scott Perry) was part of the Seattle SuperSonics front office team that drafted him out of Texas in 2007, must be very confident that they’re going to get the Golden State star. Some rival executives even reported that Knicks officials themselves have been expressing a very high level of optimism on this front.

Add in the growing concern from rival teams that the Knicks will offer Kleiman a job as part of their plan, and the fact that Durant and Perry are known to still have a good relationship, and you start to understand why New York had everyone’s attention even before this monumental move. But if this truly is in the works, if Durant is planning to bounce from the Bay and take on that yeoman’s challenge of bringing glory back to the Garden, it’s just the sort of thing that will keep the Boston Celtics brass up at night from now until this summer.

The Knicks, on the other hand, haven’t been a preferred destination for years—but there are indications of that potentially changing. League sources believe they have “a strong chance” of luring Durant should he leave the Golden State Warriors this summer and that Davis is “open” to New York as a landing place as well. Throw in a pick in this year’s NBA draft that could potentially add Duke’s Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett or Murray State’s Ja Morant, and there’s finally a reason for optimism in Manhattan.
4 weeks ago via ESPN

For those thinking that this could be Durant’s way of starting a pathway back to the Thunder in free agency this summer, think again: There’s no interest on either side for a basketball reconciliation. Both Durant and the Thunder have moved on, with OKC reshaping a new contender around Russell Westbrook and Paul George. For Durant and the Thunder, it appears to be a one-time return engagement that centers around something they both agree on: A fondness and appreciation for Nick Collison’s career with the franchise.

Nate Duncan: “For the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, Boston and Los Angeles are in there…Are there any other teams outside of those two that could realistically get in that mix?” Chris Haynes: “No team is concrete. Obviously there’s some teams looking and lurking. L.A. Clippers, they’re being really aggressive out there. They’re looking at Kawhi Leonard. They’re looking at Kevin Durant. Obviously they’re monitoring the Anthony Davis situation, they’re monitoring DeMarcus Cousins – seeing how he’s gonna progress through the achilles injury.”
1 month ago via ESPN

If the Warriors don’t three-peat, or even if they do and then Durant leaves in free agency, there will be detractors who probably will point back to the night at Staples Center when Green and Durant were shouting at each other. “I just really didn’t give a damn [about what people outside the Warriors think],” Green said of those wanting to divide Green, Durant and the Warriors. “Because I know at the end of the day, no one wants to see us win again. They would love for us to break up, for it to be broken up by that. Because they can’t, f— … can’t nobody f—ing’ beat us. So, I just look at it and laugh.”

So how about recruiting the league’s biggest free agent to Biggie’s borough? With the league cracking down on tampering — even LeBron James is watching what he says these days — Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn’s ascendant success story at point guard, talked around a good idea. “Why would I actively recruit arguably the best player in the world to come to our team when he would fill the exact spot that we need and potentially take us from just being an eighth-, seventh-seed or so, to an Eastern Conference championship team? Oh please write this down,” Dinwiddie teased to the Daily News. “Why would I do that because then I’ll get in trouble for tampering?”

When asked directly if he would confirm the scuttlebutt the Knicks would be in play, Durant said: “I have no clue where that stuff comes from. I just focus on playing ball every single day. I can’t control what people say about me, or what they say about our future and what I should do. I come to work every single day, and life will figure itself out.” Durant was then asked how it feels to be peppered with New York questions. “I just got to do it,” Durant said. “You guys asked for me, I got to talk. If I don’t, I’ll get fined. That’s all. So I’m just trying to be as honest as I can about the question but also give you what you need for your job but also not say anything that’ll ….”

Kevin Durant: Ain’t nobody can’t recruit me no more. Chris Haynes: Why is that? Durant: Because I want to dictate then environment that I want to be in. So it’s just like, you know, you can’t give me the bells and whistles and be like, I would rather see what you do on a daily basis. Like stuff that really doesn’t impress me like arenas doing extra s*** just for me? Like nah. I just want to see if you are a real person. If you are going to hold people accountable every day. Are we all going to come to work and enjoy basketball every day? Yeah and that’s exactly what I’m getting here.

What Mills can’t say publicly, because it would violate the NBA’s tampering rules, is that the Knicks are all in on free agent-to-be Kevin Durant. The Warriors superstar is and should be the Knicks’ number one free agent target. And for what it’s worth, according to several NBA executives who attended last week’s G-League Showcase in Las Vegas, the general consensus is the Knicks are still very much in play to land Durant. “Everyone says Knicks,” said one prominent player agent.

Warriors forward Kevin Durant, who has been more ambiguous about his potential free-agent plans for next summer, said he understands why certain stars might balk at joining forces with LeBron. “It depends on what kind of player you are,” Durant said. “If you’re Kyle Korver, then it makes sense. Because Kyle Korver in Atlanta was the bulk of the offense, and he’s not a No. 1 option at all, not even close. So his talents benefit more from a guy who can pass and penetrate and get him open. “If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi, trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense. Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game. A lot of young players are developing that skill. They don’t need another guy.”

Durant also noted that the suffocating media attention around James doesn’t help, either. “So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people,” Durant said. “He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is bullshit attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.”

Kevin Durant’s free-agent decision looms large for Golden State. He has made it clear that he doesn’t know what he’ll do next summer. But if the two-time Finals MVP decides to stay with the Warriors, his commute would actually become easier. Durant’s condo in San Francisco is not a far drive from where the new arena is being built. In fact, KD is the only player on the current roster living in San Francisco. “I wanted to be in the big city and mix it up a little bit,” Durant told The Undefeated. “It’s close to the [Bay] Bridge and the practice facility and arena [in Oakland]. I wanted to try it out. I’ve never lived in a big city before by myself. I wanted to learn more about the flow of the city.”

The Warriors hope Durant will continue to make his home in San Francisco as he will be the league’s most coveted free agent next summer. The nine-time All-Star was on hand when the Warriors broke ground on their new arena, called the Chase Center, and also recently got an updated tour of the arena on Nov. 9 with team sponsors and the media. “I’ve been hearing about it for so long,” Durant said. “Two years ago, I went to the groundbreaking. Now, I just wanted to see how far they’ve come with it. It looks amazing. I just wanted to see it.”

Kevin Durant to Knicks a long shot?

In talking about the Knicks and their off-season target, Kevin Durant, Woj said New York will probably “get a meeting” with the Finals MVP, but threw a bit of cold water on their chances, at least from a historical perspective. “Getting a player like Durant takes years of building up a program, building up an infrastructure, building credibility with what you’re doing and history kind of shows you that it doesn’t get short-circuited by a guy who’s a big free agent,” said Woj. “If you’re talking about Kevin Durant, some people say he may be the best player in the league. “History also tells you that that player usually either stays where he is or he goes somewhere where something’s been established there and has been building toward this. The Knicks may not fit that description.”

On whether he wishes he had approached free agency differently. Kevin Durant: “I know your guys’ job. I know that’s a topic of discussion amongst, not just me, but a lot of players that are coming up on contracts. But that’s the nature of the beast that we’re in. I’m not saying that I enjoy talking about it, because I know it should be all about just playing the season out, and that’s all I want to do. I get it, but at the same time, I’d rather just focus on playing basketball.”

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant said last week’s well-publicized, in-game exchange with Draymond Green that resulted in Green’s one-game suspension will have no bearing on his future with the franchise and that he’s more than ready to move on from the incident. “Nah, [it won’t factor],” Durant told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday. “Because at the end of the day, I’m just a ballplayer that’s just trying to be in a great environment to play basketball and groom my skills every day. And I want to compete on a level that once the game starts, I’m just totally comfortable with my surroundings, with just going out there and being me.”

“I was upset, but I know that I can’t hold on to something like this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I know that I’ve got to make a choice with myself, like how long are you going to be upset about this to the point where you’re going to let it affect what you do on the floor or how you approach the game? Once it gets there now, I got to make a grown-man decision and tell myself, ‘Look, man, no matter what, you still got to come to work every single day. It’s going to work out. It’s going to figure itself out.’ And I think everyone’s been handling it the best way they could and we’re just trying to move forward with it.”

Based on my time around the Warriors so far this season, I would argue that fears about Durant leaving in free agency actually weighed on the organization heavier last season than they do now. Various Warriors staffers were never sure, at occasional points last season, if Durant was truly enjoying the Golden State experience. In Year 3, they’ve largely learned to stop sweating it. Green, of course, is the exception. The timing and manner in which he brought up Durant’s looming free agency made it clear that the topic is very much on his mind.

While the Golden State Warriors remain confident that Kevin Durant will stay with the team next season, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN says he’s “hearing differently.” He broke down the latest rumors Wednesday on The Stephen A. Smith Show (beginning around 20:55): “I’m hearing the Knicks and the Lakers, with the Lakers having the edge. That’s what I’m hearing. Two weeks ago, I heard the Knicks had the edge. Now, I hear the Lakers have the edge. Let me tell you something, it appears to be one of those two teams which is Kevin Durant’s next destination. But Golden State is telling me: ‘There’s no way in hell we believe he’s leaving. We believe Kevin Durant’s gonna stay.'”

While sources say that Green’s treatment of Durant on the court was the primary reason for their choice to take approximately $120,000 out of his bank account, it’s clear that his caustic comments to Durant that related to free agency played a pivotal part here too. If only we lived in a world with unending candor, where the press release might include a line like, “We’d strongly prefer that Draymond doesn’t pack Kevin’s bags for him and book his flight on one of those Alaska Airlines planes that feature his smiling face and incredible wingspan, and so he was suspended.”

So if it happened to turn into a meme, so what? Durant said he didn’t exactly know what he was getting into by agreeing to do the tour but chuckled when recalling that a few excited reporters asked him if he’d commit to re-signing with the Warriors right then and there, on camera. “What are we doing here?” Durant said then with mock exasperation and repeated it Saturday. “I mean, what are we doing here? I was just curious and wanted to take a look. I ain’t signing shit right now.”
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February 22, 2019 | 9:34 pm EST Update