Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Let's take a look at some issues surrounding the seismic events of the last two days for the Knicks and the Nets:
WAS KEVIN DURANT GOING TO COME TO THE KNICKS?
Executives and agents felt for months that if Durant decided to leave Golden State, he was going to come to the Knicks. Several of Durant's current and former teammates believed it was going to happen. During the season, people around Durant were telling confidants that he was likely headed to the Knicks if he chose to leave Golden State. And it's safe to assume that Durant wasn't planning to come alone. The Knicks, of course, had enough cap space to land two stars.
Does all of this mean that Durant was, without question, going to sign with the Knicks this summer if he hadn't gotten hurt in the NBA Finals? Only Durant himself knows the answer to that. And given that he's now with the Nets, it's probably not something he's going to share publicly.
Several executives doing their homework on Durant's free agency during the season believed that it was important for the 2014 MVP to put himself in a winning situation if he left Golden State. That's not exactly earth-shattering news. But it's worth noting in light of Durant's decision to choose the Nets over the Knicks. Brooklyn was coming off of a 42-win season and a playoff berth and returning most of its key rotation players. The Knicks had won just 17 games. So a move to Brooklyn gave Durant a much better chance of returning to a team ready to win after his Achilles rehab.
And it's safe to assume that Kyrie Irving's decision to join the Nets over the Knicks factored in to Durant's decision. As has been reported elsewhere, Irving was talking to Durant about the possibility of playing together next season over the course of this past season. But several executives monitoring the Durant situation didn't believe Durant would be interested in being seen as someone who followed another player to a team.
WERE THE KNICKS GOING TO OFFER KEVIN DURANT A MAX CONTRACT?
ESPN reported shortly after Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets that "the Knicks and owner Jim Dolan were not prepared to offer Kevin Durant a full max contract due to concerns over his recovery from the Achilles injury." All indications from people around the team leading into free agency were that they were prepared to offer Durant a max contract. The team also made it clear that it would want to gather as much information about Durant's Achillies injury as it could during its pursuit of the two-time Finals MVP. Could they have seen something in that information-gathering process that scared them off? It's possible. But clearly the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors were fine with offering Durant a max contract. Time will tell if the Knicks' prudence was the correct approach. But, I have to believe that if Durant had agreed to come to the Knicks under the condition that he sign a max contract, the Knicks would have offered one.
WHAT ABOUT THE KRISTAPS PORZINGIS TRADE?
By adding Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee to the Kristaps Porzingis trade, the Knicks were able to create enough cap space for two max slots. It's logical to think that, at that point, they had high confidence that Durant was coming to New York. Obviously, things changed. Now that Durant isn't here, some fans are declaring the Porzingis trade a disaster for the Knicks. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but I think it's premature to fully judge the trade. First, we have to see if Porzingis returns to All Star form this season in Dallas and helps the team compete in the Western Conference. We also need to see what the Knicks ultimately do with the cap space, how Dennis Smith Jr. performs as a Knick and what they do with the first-round picks acquired in the trade. That being said, no matter how it works out, the Porzingis trade will be a defining factor for Knicks president Steve Mills' tenure. Eventually, the cap space the Knicks received in the trade needs to turn into elite talent.
And it's fair to point out that Porzingis demanded a trade, but you also have to take into consideration that the Knicks didn't have to trade him immediately (he was a restricted free agent). Could they have gotten more value in another trade, perhaps one that didn't involve dumping Hardaway Jr. and Lee's contracts? It's also worth wondering why Porzingis -- a young player who loved living and playing in New York City -- wanted to leave the franchise. We haven't heard publicly from Porzingis on that, yet.
NETS DESERVE ALL THE CREDIT, BUT THERE ARE RISKS:
The remarkable rebuild in Brooklyn by GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson culminated in the biggest free agent haul of the summer. Marks, Atkinson and the entire Nets organization deserve all of the plaudits they're receiving for positioning themselves to land Irving and Durant. And regardless of how things play out for the Nets in the Irving/Durant era, it's remarkable that the franchise -- left barren after the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade -- positioned itself to land two of the top free agents on the market. But now, there will be heightened expectations around Brooklyn for the first time since that trade. For obvious reasons, the Irving and Durant signings come with significant risk.
The Nets lost All-Star D'Angelo Russell to make room for Durant and Irving. Will that upset the culture that the group had established in increasing its win total by 22 victories over a 3-year period. Irving will be in a similar role in Brooklyn than he was in Boston - asked to play a leading role for a young team. It clearly didn't work all that well in Boston. Though, obviously, in Brooklyn Irving will have a rehabbing Durant and his friend, DeAndre Jordan, on the roster. (Just how Jordan is used, given Jarrett Allen's presence on the roster will be something to watch). Also, there's the obvious issue of Durant's injury. Can he return to as a close facsimile of the player he was before he got hurt? We won't know the answer to that for months. So the moves made by Brooklyn aren't without their own issues, but no matter how things play out at the Barclays Center over the next few years, what happened on Sunday night was a gut punch to the Nets' rivals across the East River.