Zion Williamson Kevin Durant
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Despite being the odds-on favorite, the New York Knicks could face a surprise challenger for Kevin Durant.

Geoffrey Campbell

Kevin Durant to the New York Knicks has been the hottest rumor in the NBA. If Durant does decide to leave and test the free agent waters, he will have no shortage of suitors. But amidst the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers lies another team poised to make a run at the 10-time All-Star—the New Orleans Pelicans.

On the surface, the Pelicans do not seem like an ideal fit. For one, the face of the franchise, Anthony Davis publically requested a trade midway through last season. Furthermore, owner Gayle Benson fired general manager Dell Demps after he failed to fix the Davis situation, which included the “Brow” sitting games and watching his team fall further out of the playoff race.

But the Pelicans were recently gifted a major bargaining chip when they won the first pick at the draft lottery. Moreover, David Griffin, who was general manager of a Cleveland Cavaliers team that won the NBA championship in 2016, and a former NBA Executive of the Year, was recently hired as the vice president of basketball operations in April.

Per Spotrac, the Pelicans currently have over $92 million in salary on the books for the 2019-2020 season. However, if Julius Randle declines his player option, and Griffin moves expiring contracts like Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore, the path is there for a max contract slot for KD.

Let’s take a look at how the Pelicans may lure Durant to the Big Easy.

Zion and AD

Perhaps Griffin was flexing his skills in clairvoyance when he expressed confidence in winning the lottery. He was in charge when the Cavs won the lottery in 2014, and lightning struck once more in 2019. The results of his immense good fortune, the chance to draft Zion Williamson and covet one of the most powerful bargaining chips in the NBA.

Williamson’s skills set is unquestionable. Outside of his athletic talent, energy, and effort, his passing is what makes him an immediate fit with any team, and of course, with stars like Davis and Durant. Williamson could even play a Draymond Green-like role next to players like Davis and KD.

Durant may also see Williamson as a protegé he can guide and shape while he enters into the latter stages of his prime. LeBron James made similar claims with Kyrie Irving, saying he was ready to give him the “keys” prior to Irving requesting a trade. With Zion, Durant would have yet another chance to rewrite the narrative, winning and playing mentor to arguably the most hyped prospect to enter the league since James did in 2003.

Furthermore, while Durant weighs his options, he must consider the upcoming trade sweepstakes for Davis. The Boston Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers will be in the trade market for the Kentucky alum. Each team will put forth hefty trade packages including up-and-coming prospects as well as future draft picks. But if I’m Durant, why not sign with the team that has AD under contract for the next two seasons?

David Griffin

Griffin is a seasoned executive with more on his resume than just a championship with LeBron James. Griffin previously worked as the assistant general manager with Steve Kerr as part of management tandem that took the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference Finals in 2010. In Cleveland, Griffin took on the herculean task of managing a James team that went to three straight finals, winning the championship in 2016.

Griffin has experience building winners and working with the NBA’s elite talent. A star like Durant can trust Griffin to know, that if he signs in New Orleans, Griffin will make sure that the necessary complementary veterans are signed to maximize the team’s ability to win at a high level. Griffin did this with the Cavs, time after time, signing vets like Richard Jefferson, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver.

New York Knicks

Griffin also knows how to convert assets into a cornerstone piece of a winning squad. Once James signed to the Cavs in the summer of 2014, Griffin swiftly put together a trade package for Kevin Love, sending Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick in the draft, to Minnesota. Love was a major part of those finals teams and the perfect fit next to James.

Finally, Griffin, compared to many executives, is more than accustomed to working under extreme pressure. During the LBJ years with the Cavs, the King often signed short-term deals to keep his options open. With the dark cloud that was “LeBron might leave” hanging over your franchise, Griffin was masterful at putting players around James in order to keep the Cavs in the conversation for a title.

Conclusion

As a final note, committed to the ultimate prize, winning a championship, Griffin even fired David Blatt after an NBA Finals appearance and 30-11 record in his second season as head coach. Tyronn Lue is credited with being a guiding force for a team that overthrew the Warriors in the finals after the Golden State Warriors had won 73 games during the regular season.

Sure, the Knicks have two max slots available, but can either Steve Mills or Scott Perry say that they’ve had more success than Griffin? No.

Ultimately, it’s more than a longshot that KD signs with the Pelicans. Yet with Griffin’s experience, Davis, and Williamson, the building blocks are there for a Western Conference powerhouse that can contend with the Warriors.

If I’m the Knicks, I’d be worried that Griffin’s recent luck will extend into this summer.

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