As Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors tenure was winding to a close, the New York Knicks became his most heavily rumored destination. In March 2019, Knicks owner James Dolan intimated that Durant and Kyrie Irving, the marquee 2019 free agents, were a good bet to join the Knicks, saying from everything he’d heard, “we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
Durant and Irving did, of course, sign to play in New York.
For the Brooklyn Nets.
The factors that led Durant and Irving to join the Nets have been widely speculated, from Durant preferring the Knicks but Irving selling him on the Nets to Durant’s torn Achilles ultimately steering him away from the Knicks. Durant has dismissed it all, saying that he never gave the Knicks serious consideration, even going so far as to say the stars of today’s game don’t view the Knicks as “cool.”
Los Angeles Lakers veteran Jared Dudley, who played for the Nets during the 2018-19 season, was even more blunt about the reason Durant and Irving didn’t ultimately choose the Knicks. In a Q&A with Michael Lee of The Athletic, Dudley said, “… let’s be honest, if the Knicks are run right, the Knicks get [Durant and Irving] easily. It’s not even close. If the Knicks are run halfway decent, they get KD and Kyrie.”
Obviously this is just Dudley’s opinion. He’s a veteran player with strong relationships in the league, and he’s likely got a pretty good feel for the pulse of fellow players in general. Who knows? Maybe Durant or Irving has said something to him in private, though if that were the case, it seems unlikely that Dudley would then turn right around and make the contents of that conversation public knowledge.
It’s no big secret that the Knicks — who’ve missed the playoffs six straight years (this year will make seven) and have made just five playoff appearances this century, only once advancing past the first round — have been a mess for about as long as anyone can remember. The days of players having to go to New York for the market are over. You can be a star anywhere these days, and certainly the Nets offer the same market with a better organizational and personnel foundation.
Ultimately, what Dudley is saying is that if all things were relatively equal, and you gave the Knicks something close to the Nets’ structure, ownership and stable of young talent, it’s hard to imagine star players, Durant and Irving or otherwise, not gravitating to the Knicks. That’s probably a fair assessment.
But that’s not the reality. The Knicks are, well, the Knicks. They’re a running punchline. Dolan is hoping the hiring of Leon Rose as president of basketball operations, which comes on the heels of firing former team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry, will get the franchise going in some kind of positive direction — one that, perhaps, can put the Knicks in position to learn from the mistakes that potentially cost them Durant and Irving and become a viable destination for big-name free agents in the future.