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Why the Knicks should not sign Kevin Durant

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Yes, the Knicks should pass up signing an all-time great even if the opportunity arises

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Hello. My name is Shwinnypooh, and I’m a Knicks fan. I’ve endured a lot of shitty seasons. At the outset of 90% of them I convinced myself of the best case scenario coming to fruition for the Knicks. I have been right maybe once.

You can definitely call me a Knicks optimist. Why? I can’t give you a single goddamn good reason. Very little that can be described as “good” has transpired over the last couple of decades.

Since the Knicks made the Finals in ‘99, we’ve had to settle for shitty seasons, but there have been various kinds. We’ve had seasons where Larry Brown decided to start guys just because we were playing in their hometown. We’ve had seasons where Isiah Thomas asked Lenny Wilkens to coach a backcourt of Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford to defensive competence. We’ve had seasons where Jeff Van Gundy quit, and Don Chaney was a thing. We’ve had seasons in which Mike D’Antoni quit after Linsanity died, only for Woodsonsanity to revive us, before, like, the entire team died. We’ve had some truly deplorable off-the-court seasons where Anucha Brown Sanders deservedly brought shame to the organization. We’ve had seasons where Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony spent most of it infighting with each other.

We’ve been through a lot, man. So when the Knicks made the controversial decision to trade Kristaps Porzingis, and the scuttlebutt around the league seemed to indicate Kevin Durant plus one was as close to a sure thing as you could hope for, many of us bought in. I certainly did. Hell, I thought Durant to the Knicks was extremely likely even before the trade. The trade just made the mechanics of bringing him here easier, and opened up the option for him to pick a running mate of his choice.

Then Game 5 of the NBA Finals happened.

Of course it did. The moment Durant’s name became so strongly intertwined with the Knicks it was inevitable. I’m sorry Kevin. It’s not you, it’s Golden State’s shitty irresponsible handling of the entire situation us.

Forgetting the impact on the Knicks’ master plan, the whole thing is tragic. An all-time great rushes back from an injury to help his team overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and instead gets struck down with what is considered by most to be the worst injury for an athlete to suffer. Get well, Kevin.

Now, back to the Knicks’ master plan. It doesn’t matter if Durant was 100% coming to Madison Square Garden prior to the Achilles rupture he suffered. That injury has to put everything that you thought you knew back into consideration.

Plenty of people believe that maxing KD, even after this devastating injury, is a no-brainer. I get it, I really do, but I can’t get with it. I’ve seen this movie before. No, not with this caliber of player, but certainly with convincing myself that this time, with this this guy, this recovery from injury will be different. I can’t do it anymore. And I hope the Knicks can’t either, and here’s why.

Kevin Durant will not even be on the floor for 25% of his contract

This part is pretty straightforward. If the Knicks sign Durant in free agency any contract they offer him — it will be a max — can be a maximum of four years in length. It’s expected that Duran’t recovery rules out most any possibility of him playing next season. So if the Knicks do max him, the first year of that contract is like paid recovery. He likely would only ever suit up for the Knicks the following three seasons.

Durant may very well not be the same guy

Kevin Durant has been a top-3 player for the majority of this decade. He’s won an MVP and outplayed LeBron James in two consecutive NBA Finals. Adding him to the Warriors turned a burgeoning competitive rivalry with the Cavaliers into a laugher. The dude joined a 73-win team and made them more dominant. That’s how good he is.

Or is it how good he was? Because the dude we all remember, the one that sons the league to death whenever he wants, that drops 40 points in his sleep, that can pull up from 30 feet like it’s nothing, well, that dude may very well not be the guy we get.

Durant will be 32 the next time he steps onto an NBA court. He’s already entering the phase of his career where you’d expect some performance-related decline, and you could argue we’ve seen it over the last few years in Golden State, although that could just be due to him saving himself for the playoffs. Prior to his injury such a decline was less concerning, since that would still leave him as a top 5-8 player. Hell, even with a slight decline he may still have been a top-3 player. That’s how good he was.

After an Achilles rupture? Not sure about that, chief.

The history of guys that have come back from this injury and been able to perform similarly to pre-injury levels is limited to Dominique Wilkins and, most recently, Rudy Gay. Everybody else didn’t come back as just slightly worse. The drop was significant.

The risk is real. Do not fall in the trap of dismissing it, because of what Durant was prior to his injury. The new real is different.

Rushing the “timeline”

Admittedly, this is something I wouldn’t care about if Durant never got hurt. I argued against this prior to his injury in the comments with our good friend, Gyrk. Again, injury changes that for me, because even if we sign Durant this summer, it seems unlikely we’ll nab another big name with the rest of the space. The Knicks have made noise that if not for an A-list star they’d prefer to remain flexible.

So, let’s assume when KD comes back, it’s the kids plus whomever we pick next year. You really think he’s good with that?

Even if we roll our space over, next summer’s free agent class is...not inspiring.

We just saw how this type of situation played out with the Lakers. Durant is not LeBron. He doesn’t have that history of meddling in front office affairs. But after spending a year battling against his basketball mortality I suspect that he’s going to want every minute of the rest of his career to be on a team that is giving him a chance to win. Sure, like LeBron, a move to New York could well be a lifestyle choice and legacy play, but you don’t get that legacy if you’re babysitting kids in the twilight of your prime.

Maybe RJ comes in and is immediately looking like young Kobe, Knox makes a leap, Mitch keeps Mitch’ing, Frank starts hitting 3’s and turns into a perfect low usage role player, DSJ makes a DLo-like leap, and ISO-Zo drops the ISO, but that’s a lot to bet on. Young players don’t normally enter as high-impact players off the bat or morph into them overnight. Most of them aren’t prodigies. They need to be nurtured and developed with care.

That ain’t happening with KD in the mix. We’re going to have to use our cap space, young players and assets to add more win-now vets to the mix. Post-Achilles KD ain’t the dude I’m going in for like that. Sorry. That’s just me.

Forcing the Issue

I’m still more confident than not that Durant will settle on signing here. I’m certain that if he indicates that preference to Perry and Mills, they’ll sign him with very little hesitation. I know millions of Knicks fans will be on board with it too.

I won’t. I can wrap my head around it, but I don’t think it’s prudent and it feels like we’re forcing something to happen, because we’ve been so thirsty for it, but things done changed.

It feels like Knicks fans have been so convinced of his arrival for so long that they’re acting as if we have to give him a max. We don’t. He’s not under contract with the Knicks. He’s never been under contract with the Knicks. He’s not ours no matter how much it felt like it was just a matter of time before he was.

We are not beholden to Kevin Durant. We don’t owe him anything. The Warriors probably do, but we’re not them. We’re the shitty, moribund Knicks. We’re the squad that just picked RJ Barrett third overall, our reward for finishing with a league-worst 17 wins last season.

And for once, even if we strikeout in free agency, so long as we don’t do anything stupid, the franchise isn’t screwed. It’s not even really in a bad place. We have a core of young talent, which is something we’ve never had for as long as I can remember and that’s nice no matter how you feel about certain members of it. We have all of our picks plus two from Dallas moving forward. WE DON’T HAVE A SINGLE BAD CONTRACT ON OUR BOOKS!

This is all good shit. If you’re about internal development and not skipping steps, as the Knicks claim they’re about nowdays, it should give them pause before sinking 35% of the cap over the next four years into banking on Durant making a full recovery from an Achilles rupture.

You go get stars when the situation presents itself and the risk is in your favor. The risk profile of this move isn’t in the Knicks favor. Even if Durant returns and is 85-90% of the player he was, that 10-15% drop is significant. It means he’s not a no-brainer max guy. It means he’s not a franchise altering talent, and drops into less rareified air. He may still an All-Star, but Kevin Durant was a lot more than just an All-Star.

It sucks. Things really felt like they were lined up for the Knicks to make a massive leap, but you gotta adapt.

Don’t max Kevin Durant because of the memory of the player he was. Recognize what he is now and the risk it entails. I don’t know where the Knicks will finally get the caliber player required to win at the highest levels in this league. I’m not sure RJ Barrett is that. I don’t think any of the other dudes we got have that potential.

All I know is going in for Durant in the hopes that he can still be that guy is very Knicksy and that hasn’t worked out for us before. I remain cautiously optimistic; maybe “hopeful” is more appropriate, Scott Perry is different than what we’ve had. If Kevin Durant wants to sign for the Knicks and Perry says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” I’ll know my optimism was well-placed.