The NBA is currently being engulfed by Anthony Davis trade rumors, and the situation is foreshadowing for more superstar movement this summer. A marquee class of players is hitting the free agent market in the offseason, headlined by Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and — most notably — Kevin Durant.
Though Durant has two championships and two NBA Finals MVPs since his controversial decision to join in the Warriors in the summer of 2016, there have been rumors since the start of this season that the superstar forward could be looking to leave Golden State. According to Ethan Strauss of The Athletic, one organization is making itself the favorite to land Durant this summer: the New York Knicks.
With the caveat that the choice lives inside the head of one guy who can and does change his mind: Insiders around the league think Kevin Durant is leaving the Warriors for the Knicks. Most people within the Warriors either think Durant is leaving or profess not to know one way or the other. His teammates recognize this reality, can handle it and merely want one outcome: Win a championship, absent too much drama. The main concern, at the moment, is whether he’ll commit in the short term to what he may have already left in the long term.
The Knicks currently have the worst record in the NBA at 10-43. After so many superstars have spurned New York in the past, could Durant finally be the franchise player the Knicks have long been hoping to attract? There are signs that it’s possible.
The idea that Durant could leave the Warriors started early
Warriors insider Marcus Thompson was perhaps the first person to suggest out loud that this was Durant’s final season in the Bay when he wrote during the preseason that, “If I had to guess, Durant is gone.”
Thompson acknowledged he wasn’t actually reporting anything, just getting a gut feeling that Durant would bolt in free agency. Still, he added some level of legitimacy to low-level rumblings that had been going on for some time.
Durant’s brother left a cryptic Instagram comment suggesting KD was leaving Golden State
After Golden State’s opening night win over Durant’s former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant’s brother Tony left a strange comment on KD’s Instagram page.
Tony Durant commented: “Filling the hand up before we get outta here!”
He later tried to explain himself by saying he was referring to retirement, which felt a little odd considering KD had just turned 30 years old.
Tony Durant's statement regarding what this comment meant pic.twitter.com/PMPHfBGXjs— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) October 17, 2018
Let’s not forget there were some uncomfortable jokes during the Warriors’ last title parade
Championship parades are supposed to be joyful celebrations, but things turned decidedly awkward Durant’s expense as the Warriors were being honored last summer.
The first notable quote of the parade: Bob Myers with an unexpected zing at at Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/asE6MpsgN5— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) June 12, 2018
A transcript of that video:
Myers: That was just for the media he can’t have anything that he wants.
Coach Steve Kerr: Mid-level.
Broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald: Last year you told Steph he could have whatever contract he wants too.
Myers: That was different. He’s been here since the way before days ... he’s earned it.
Fitzgerald: And there ended the Warriors’ cohesion right there.
There was another shot from Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald:
Fitzgerald: I’m gonna stand in front of KD. ... Before his Warriors exit, I want to enjoy as much time with him as possible.
This was all just ... really strange. Did the Warriors already know Durant was leaning towards leaving?
Draymond Green acknowledged the Durant rumors during a mid-season fight
The fight between Durant and teammate Draymond Green at the end of a game against the Clippers in November remains the most highly publicized moment of the Warriors’ season. Green and Durant got into it after a botched final possession, with the famously testy Green repeatedly calling Durant a “bitch” to his face. Green cited Durant’s impending free agency in the fracas.
Sources: In midst of verbal exchange on court late in Monday's game, Draymond Green challenged Kevin Durant about Durant's impending free agency. As teammates came at Green about his turnover, he responded. This has been a simmering issue for the Warriors today.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 13, 2018
The Warriors sided with Durant in the disagreement, suspending Green without pay for one game. Things have felt uneasy around the Warriors ever since, even as the team has continued to assert itself as the championship favorite.
The Knicks rumors are getting louder
When the Knicks made a shocking trade that sent star Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas last week, the organization’s plan became transparent: the Knicks are chasing superstar free agents — plural — this summer.
At this point, the Warriors are well aware that Durant is one of them. From Marc Stein of the New York Times:
The threat of the Knicks persuading Durant to leave one of the most dominant teams in league history has never felt more real to the Warriors themselves.
A rival executive also told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck that Durant has already told the Knicks he’s coming.
Durant already has some connections to the franchise, as detailed by Anthony Slater of The Athletic in October:
Rich Kleiman, is a New York-based Knicks fan with dreams of working in their front office one day. Royal Ivey, perhaps Durant’s best friend, is on David Fizdale’s coaching staff.
Following the Porzingis trade, the Knicks have about enough cap space to offer two max contracts in free agency. Could Kyrie Irving also join Durant in New York? On the subject of his impending free agency with the Celtics, Irving recently said “I don’t owe anybody shit.”
Why would Durant leave the Warriors for the Knicks?
There have been other small hints that Durant could be on his way out of the Bay. He hasn’t been speaking to reporters since superstars like Davis and Porzingis found themselves in the rumor mill. Strauss also noted that Durant has “made a habit of drifting far from the huddle during timeouts, electing to stand alone by the stanchion.”
Durant has felt heat ever since joining the Warriors, both from his peers in the NBA and from fans. As he has stacked championships, he has also spent his time fighting with teenagers on Instagram and getting into arguments on podcasts.
Winning rings is supposed to be the ultimate validation for an NBA star. As Durant has done it, outsiders only seem to respect him less. That’s what happens when you join a team that went 73-9 the season before you arrived. What better way to earn validation than by joining the worst team in the NBA?
There was a lot of smoke that LeBron James could join the Lakers a year before he actually did. Is the same thing happening with Durant and the Knicks?