Kevin Durant’s free agency has been the talk of NBA season, but his Achilles injury changes the future of the New York Knicks in a major way.
Everything we thought we knew about the offseason was just flipped on its head when Kevin Durant, the crown jewel of 2019 free agency, went down with an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Obviously, his absence will impact the rest of the Finals, but it will also dramatically change the landscape of the NBA. More specifically, the future plans of the New York Knicks may be shifting dramatically.
The Knicks have long been gearing up to make a major run at free agents in 2019. Obviously, the Knicks could never say publicly that they planned to pursue Durant, but widespread belief is that the Knicks were planning to make a serious pitch to the two-time Finals MVP. With the possible exception of Kawhi Leonard, Durant was the top free agent on the market. Unfortunately, Durant’s pending free agency now has a black cloud hanging over it.
He could just exercise his player option and return for, at least, one more year with the Golden State Warriors. Of course, we all hope that Durant’s injury is not as devastating as it appeared and he gets his max contract this offseason. However, if Durant’s injury is as bad as it looked, he won’t be the highly coveted free agent we always thought he would be in 2019.
The dream for Knicks fans always involved signing Durant this summer and it ended with a statue of the enigmatic star after he brought New York a championship. But now, everything has changed and here are a few possible ways the Knicks will pivot from this.
All in for Anthony Davis
The Knicks could (and probably should) become the all-out aggressor on the trade market for Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans. He was an intriguing option with Durant as a potential running mate and he becomes even more interesting without KD in the picture.
As soon as the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis, the goal was to acquire two stars to build around. With recent reports that Davis has the Knicks on his list of preferred long-term destinations, the Knicks can trade for the star big man without the risk of losing him in free agency.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Pelicans prefer to make a deal before the NBA draft on June 20. If the Knicks can snag Davis, perhaps that can help them lure a second star.
Prying Davis from New Orleans won’t be easy. According to Wojnarowski, the Pelicans are looking for an All-Star, a potential All-Star, and draft picks. The Knicks have ample draft capital and a potential All-Star in Mitchell Robinson or Kevin Knox. However, the last place team during the 2018-19 season was devoid of any All-Stars.
That means one of two things for the Knicks front office when working on a deal. Either the Knicks will have to blow the Pelicans away with their young players and draft picks or they will have to find a third team with an All-Star on the trading block to get involved.
Acquiring Davis won’t be cheap, but if there is no Durant on the market, it could be the necessary move to ensure that the Knicks are not left standing in free agency musical chairs.
The Patient Backup Plan
I recently wrote an entire column on this backup plan. There’s no need to completely rehash this idea. But thankfully, it’s a simple idea and it’s entirely based upon patience. If the Knicks fail to land Davis via trade and can’t lure top-tier stars like Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, or Kemba Walker, they must stay patient.
It may not be easy for Knick fans to swallow, but the 2019-20 season will become another development year. Let the young studs run it back with Mitchell Robinson starting for a full season alongside Dennis Smith Jr. Draft RJ Barrett and throw him right in the mix. Let the young guys make mistakes and grow.
In terms of cap space, look to acquire assets in conjunction with expiring contracts. Adding assets while maintaining cap flexibility is key in this scenario. Rather than handing out a max deal to someone like Khris Middleton or Tobias Harris, the Knicks can regroup and reload in 2020. It’s too far to forecast anything definitively about that free agent class, but Durant, Davis, and Draymond Green could all be on the market.
That being said, there is no guarantee that any of them will be on the market. Punting is inherently risky, but it would still be preferable to giving out the wrong contracts that will hamper the team in the long-term.
Sign Durant Anyway
It’s still far too early to tell if this is a legitimate possibility. However, in the event that Durant still tests out free agency, the Knicks could take the major risk of signing the superstar with the injury baggage. If signing Durant means adding a second star like Irving or Walker, it could overcome the fear of signing him after this devastating injury.
I would be lying if I said I knew what was going to happen. Durant is going for an MRI on Tuesday. After learning more about the severity of the injury, we’ll have a better understanding of the long-term implications this injury has on the NBA Finals and, more specifically, the Knicks’ offseason plans.