New York’s future grew even more uncertain following Kevin Durant’s injury, despite zero reason to believe the Warrior was undoubtedly turning in his threads for Knicks ones.
It was an open secret the New York Knicks were gunning for Kevin Durant. The 10-time All-Star was the top name on New York’s list heading in free agency—even rowdy Raptors fans filled Scotiabank Arena with loud “New York Knicks” chants during Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
Nevertheless, as if it always tends to go this way, there’s an immense chasm between what the Knicks want and what they can get.
Durant’s injury is heartbreaking even without the influence of a looming free-agent decision starting June 30th. For the sport, KD is an elite player whose appearance in Game 5 alone was momentous and life affirming for Golden State. Down 3-1 to the Kawhi Leonard–led Raptors, the Warriors could all but wait until a healthy Durant arrived on the scene like a rescue helicopter.
Now, he’s definitively out for the series—and worse, for the team to which Durant decides to lend his talents next—he could be away from basketball for umpteen months.
For the Knicks, Durant’s injury means further uncertainty in their future. That the team dealt with Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL tear and traded the rising star on the back of upcoming free-agency hope is devastated by Durant’s Achilles injury, which jeopardizes New York’s ability to snatch KD away from the dynastic Warriors.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) June 11, 2019
For starters, Durant could opt into his player option with Golden State. For much of the season, it was a foregone conclusion that the former MVP would opt out—thus securing another lucrative multi-year deal on the open market, even if it could be re-signing with the Warriors.
The Knicks lost leverage on Monday night in negotiating with Durant and manager Rich Kleiman, who famously tweeted he’d “run the Knicks someday.” While it no way compares to the internal grief the Warriors and Durant are facing, officials within the Knicks organization are assuredly disturbed by this development.
Their plan started with convincing Durant and his brand to move to the East Coast.
The New York Post‘s Marc Berman mentioned the uncertainty regarding the Knicks’ plans with Durant in a Tuesday morning story:
“Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry may have shed one or two tears along with [Warriors president Bob] Myers.
If an MRI exam confirms a full tear, Durant’s 2019-20 season could be over and maybe he doesn’t become a free agent after all and opts into the final year of his Warriors contract as he rehabs.
If he does opt out, do the Knicks give the soon-to-be 31-year-old his max deal, knowing next season is in jeopardy and some big men never recover fully from such a devastating leg injury? Durant, who looked so good in that 11-point first quarter, may never be as dominant.”
Promising Durant a max or near-max contract on the heels of a devastating Achilles injury would be slightly problematic for New York. As Rob Wolkenbrod wrote for Daily Knicks, “it is not an either-or situation, as the Knicks will take a risk no matter which path they travel. No ‘right’ answer exists now.”
There’s one option for the Knicks—the one where they pay Durant and have him sit out a season. That path is further complicated by the uncertain free agent market, wherein the Knicks could just as easily sign Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard, or simply strike out and have plenty of cap space left—facing next season with the young “core” and a sidelined Durant waiting in the wings.
Similarly, the Knicks could package the young players for the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, who would be a worthy stop gap to Durant should the ‘Bockers fulfill a promise to sign KD if he opts out.
Another, more vivid scenario for the Knicks would be to let go of their Durant in the big city dreams. Despite speculation leading the belief around the league that Irving could soon be a Brooklynite, the New Jersey native isn’t signed yet. Additionally, the Knicks remain confident in their ability to secure a meeting with leading Finals MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard during free agency, as the Post reported.
And again, a Davis trade is firmly on the table. Reports from ESPN and The Athletic yesterday indicate the Knicks and Lakers at the top of New Orleans EVP David Griffin’s calling list asking about Davis.
SNY’s Ian Begley appears to report that those options, and more, exist for New York.
“New York had enough cap space to sign two max free agents, so it could afford to bring a player like Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker in with Durant. The club also had the space to trade for Anthony Davis and sign Durant.
If Durant has indeed suffered a torn Achilles, it seems unlikely that those options are on the table.”
It’s not like Durant was in the bag for the Knicks, so to speak. However, the saddening injury to one of basketball’s preeminent athletes—plus the murky timeline and contractual situation—adds more fuel to the Knicks’ burning desire to secure a winning destiny.
Whether KD was truthfully coming to New York or not wasn’t open or shut just yet, but for the Knicks the path isn’t paved with championship gold—as bad as the franchise has fooled itself into thinking it was.
UPDATE: 3:59 p.m. ET, 6/12.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania first reported that Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon and underwent surgery.
Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant has underwent surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 12, 2019