Despite the original plan to pursue Kevin Durant in free agency, the New York Knicks should stay away from the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
The New York Knicks are on the right path forward. General manager Scott Perry has changed the narrative surrounding the Knickerbockers. The team has been building towards 2019 free agency for the better part of two years and Kevin Durant has always been a No. 1 priority.
Some will argue that the team was gearing up for all of free agency rather than simply focusing on Durant. Of course, the Knicks could never explicitly say they were targeting Durant because of tampering rules, but it’s clear that he was the undisputed top target on the market (at least until Kawhi Leonard‘s ridiculous playoff run).
However, the Knicks hired his longtime friend and former teammate, Royal Ivey, as an assistant coach. The New York native played with Durant on the Oklahoma City Thunder and both attended the University of Texas, although at separate times. By all accounts, Ivey is in his position as an assistant on his own merit and because of his strong relationship with head coach David Fizdale. That being said, it’s impossible to ignore Ivey’s close bond with Durant.
To be clear, the Knicks weren’t the only team in the NBA building towards a Kevin Durant pitch in 2019. There were at least half a dozen teams clearing the books for this summer. However, the Achilles injury Durant suffered in the NBA Finals changes the calculus of this summer for the Knicks.
Although Durant was once the top priority for the organization, they should tread lightly before signing him this summer. Achilles injuries are scary stuff and it’s no guarantee that he returns to be the same type of player he was earlier in his career.
There are cautionary tales like Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups. Bryant and Billups were both in their mid-30s when they suffered the injury. However, there are some success stories, most notably Dominique Wilkins. The Atlanta Hawks legend suffered the same injury as a 32-year-old and he was able to return to his All-Star form.
“It’s going to come down to how hard you are willing to work to get back,” Wilkins told Mark Medina of Bay Area News Group. “This injury takes a lot of patience. But I think Kevin Durant is going to be fine. He’s one of those superstar players that will not let this obstacle hold him back.”
Durant is certainly one of the premier players in the game, but he turns 31 in September. He’ll be 32 before he plays another game. Not to mention, he’ll be on the downswing of his career once he hits the third and fourth years of his next contract. His age and health concerns are red flags for a team that has preached patience over the last year.
With Durant, the young core of the Knicks would have a year to develop. That means RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Damyean Dotson, and the rest of the young Knicks have one year before the team’s three-year championship window opens up with a healthy Durant.
In all likelihood, the Knicks will need to trade away assets and young players to put championship-ready players around Durant. It doesn’t make sense to sacrifice youth and future assets to build around an aging player coming off of one of the worst injuries any basketball player can suffer.
As a solo superstar on the Knicks, Durant doesn’t make sense for the franchise.
The One Caveat
There is one big “what if” that we need to discuss. On Saturday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne noted that Durant and Kawhi Leonard were discussing the possibility of teaming up this summer. If the Knicks can land Durant plus another superstar like Leonard or Kyrie Irving, you take your chances with his health.
A second superstar can provide insurance in the event that Durant doesn’t return to his elite status as a top-five player in the league. Handing out max money to a player with serious health concerns is a major risk. Leonard or Irving can mitigate that risk to a certain extent.
That should be the only way the Knicks feel comfortable signing Durant to a max contract. Otherwise, they are placing far too much faith in Durant’s ruptured Achilles. New York spent a lot of time preparing to sign Durant, but it’s time to cut their losses and pursue a new plan of attack.