Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

With so many teams gearing up for free agency this summer, the New York Knicks should keep a close eye on the Los Angeles Clippers.

The New York Knicks have enough salary cap space to sign two max free agents, but they will face some major competition come July. While many are expecting the Brooklyn Nets to make strong pitches to the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn isn’t the “little brother” that the Knicks should worry about. The Los Angeles Clippers remain an under-the-radar contender to win the offseason.

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, the Clippers are an “equally dangerous threat to the Knicks to sign Durant.” Of course, Stein notes that it’s folly to make firm predictions this far in advance of free agency. Popular belief tends to be that the Knicks are the frontrunners to sign Durant. However, nothing is certain until Durant signs on the dotted line.

“Within the last month,” Stein wrote, “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 recently said that Durant is “100% undecided” at the moment. What else is he going to say? It’s impossible for us to enter the mind of Durant, but Knicks fans should feel legitimately threatened by the Clippers.

Why Would Durant Choose LA?

First off, look at the 2018-19 standings. The Clippers made the playoffs in the uber-competitive Western Conference. Furthermore, they took Durant’s dominant Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round. The Clippers look like a team ready to contend for a championship if they can add either Durant or Leonard in the offseason.

The Knicks were the worst team in the NBA last season. Although they have a few promising young players on the roster, they’ll need to undergo some serious changes to surround Durant with a team capable of winning a title.

That being said, the Knicks can give Durant the option of picking his running mate. The blockbuster Kristaps Porzingis trade cleared enough space for the Knicks to go after Durant and another superstar in July.

Will Durant want to sign on with Irving or Kemba Walker in New York? Perhaps he will, but there’s a chance he wants to play as the lone superstar on a championship winning team. The Clippers could offer him the best avenue to achieve that goal.

Moreover, the Clippers have a championship-winning head coach roaming the sidelines. Rivers has proved himself to be one of the best coaches in the league. Although David Fizdale took the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs in his first year on the sidelines, he’s still a relatively unproven head coach.

The Knicks have upside as a free agent destination. There’s no denying that. However, the Clippers feel like the much safer bet for Durant. He will have a legendary head coach and proven veterans like Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell in the fold.

With the Knicks, Durant has the opportunity to become a basketball god. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot more moving parts in New York’s quest to build a championship contender.

The Dark Horse Anthony Davis Suitor

Recently, the Knicks have emerged as the de facto “best package” team in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. In other words, the Knicks could have the right combination of young players, draft picks, and cap space to make the best offer to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Not so fast my friend. Let’s look at young players first. The Knicks have All-Rookie second teamer, Mitchell Robinson, along with Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Damyean Dotson, and Frank Ntilikina. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, the Pelicans are lukewarm on Knox as a prospect. That leaves Robinson as the only true blue-chip prospect of the bunch.

Much like Robinson, both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet were named to the All-Rookie second team on Tuesday. Moreover, both Gilgeous-Alexander and showed promise in the playoffs. Add Ivica Zubac and Jerome Robinson to the conversation and it’s clear that the Clips have comparable young players, at the very least.

If the Pelicans are interested in draft capital the Knicks have a treasure chest filled with future picks. In addition to the No. 3 overall pick for the upcoming draft, the Knicks have all of their own picks plus two future first rounders from the Dallas Mavericks. The 2021 pick is unprotected and the 2023 pick comes with top-10 protections through 2025.

The Clippers don’t have their 2019 first-round pick, but they have no shortage of attractive draft capital stashed away. Los Angeles has a lottery-protected first rounder from the Philadelphia 76ers in 2020. More importantly, the Clippers might have the most highly coveted draft pick in the league right now—an unprotected first-round pick from the Miami Heat in 2021.

No one expects Miami to tank in the next few seasons, but they are kind of a mess at the moment. They’re on the downswing and project to be a lottery team in 2021. With the new and improved lottery odds, that unprotected pick has insane value.

The Knicks might still have the better package when all is said and done, but the Clippers deserve to be in the conversation.

Final Thoughts

With all this said, there’s no guarantee that the Pelicans trade Davis and there have been no reports to indicate that the Clippers are interested in acquiring the disgruntled superstar. However, it’s clear that the Clippers are the biggest threat to the Knicks this offseason.

If they feel inclined to enter the AD sweepstakes, they can put together a compelling package. If they pursue Durant in free agency, they can offer a readymade championship roster for Durant to cement his legacy.

It’s only May. No one knows how this monumental offseason will unfold. The stars could align for the Knicks to sign Durant, trade for Davis, or both. But if the Knicks don’t achieve their perfect offseason, it’s likely that the Clippers had something to do with it.

NY/NJ hoops reporter (NBA/NCAA) & sports betting writer for XL Media. Never had the makings of a varsity athlete.