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Should the Knicks consider a sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant?

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Rumor has it that such a scenario is possible.

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2019 NBA Finals - Game Five
KD to the Knicks? They say nothing is impossible.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Knicks handled the draft, but free agency is when we’ll find out whether a rapid but successful rebuild can take place. The team has a handful of exciting young talents, but the front office has reportedly had its sights set on Kevin Durant all year, and despite his ruptured Achilles, a fair amount of people ‘in the know’ think KD could still come to New York.

However, no one seems to know exactly what Durant is thinking, which means we don’t actually have any idea what is going to happen. Some reports say KD is angry at the Golden State Warriors for how they handled him in the playoffs, while others believe the Dubs are going to offer him a fat, five-year supermax contract that would be hard for any human being to pass up.

Amidst all the craziness taking place ahead of July 1, there has sprouted another rumor: the Warriors could sign Durant to that massive deal and then trade him, perhaps to the Knicks. That way, the Warriors would not be left empty handed with KD’s departure, and the Knicks would still get their star.

Is this actually a realistic possibility? How would it work? What would the Knicks have to give up in such a deal? Is a sign-and-trade something the Knicks should even consider?

Those are just a few of the questions that come to mind when contemplating the idea of a sign-and-trade for KD. Let’s see if we can answer them.

What are the actual sign-and-trade rules under the current collective bargaining agreement?

First and foremost, sign-and-trades were much more common prior to the implementation of the current CBA, which went into effect July 1, 2017 and runs through 2023-24 but has a mutual opt-out option after 2022-23.

Fun fact: as part of the trade for Andrea Bargnani in 2013, the Knicks signed-and-traded Quentin Richardson. The Knicks also included many other things in that deal. Let’s move on.

Washington Wizards v New York Knicks
What happened here?
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The current CBA includes a bunch of language specifying the circumstances under which sign-and-trades are allowed. Here are some of the important things:

Sign-and-trades allow teams to re-sign their own free agents in order to immediately trade them, with a provision included in the player’s contract saying that if the deal is not completed within 48 hours, the signing becomes null and void.

In order to be sign-and-tradeable, a player must be an unrestricted free agent who signs with his former team with the intention of being dealt. The team acquiring the player must have the requisite cap space to fit the contract they are taking back, and such deals must take place before the first game of the regular season. The CBA says a whole bunch of other stuff, but those are the basics.

The Knicks clearly have the cap room for Durant, who is an unrestricted free agent, so on its face it seems like a sign-and-trade could work.

Unfortunately, the CBA also stipulates that, under your standard sign-and-trade, the player being signed-and-traded is not actually eligible for the supermax salary they could get by staying with their current team. They can still be eligible for a max contract, but not a supermax.

Durant, for example, could ink a five-year deal with the Warriors worth around $221 million, but that’s only if he stays with the Warriors for a bit. If the Dubs were to do a straight up sign-and-trade deal, he could only sign for four years and about $164 million.

Only $164 million! That’s peanuts.

Jimmy Carter Shovels Peanuts, GA, 1970s.
Actually, these are peanuts.

Okay, so what are you trying to say?

In order for Durant to make the most money possible, he would have to sign with the Warriors and then not be traded immediately. Thus, your basic sign-and-trade won’t work unless KD is down to make about $57 million less than what he is eligible to receive.

To that end, Brian Windhorst recently reported that there have been discussions regarding a potential delayed sign-and-trade, under which Durant would sign with the Warriors for the supermax but rehab away from the team, and then eventually get traded.

“It would be [the Warriors’] way to sort of take care of him monetarily after what he just went through and also protect the franchise and get some assets,” Windhorst said.

In the wake of KD declining his $31.5 million player option, which officially signals that he’ll enter free agency, Windhorst added some more detail to his initial reports concerning a potential KD sign-and-trade during a Thursday appearance on ESPN’s Get Up.

“I’m going to just be honest with you: my sense is that the Warriors are in a scramble mode to do anything that they can to either keep Kevin or not lose him for nothing,” Windhorst said. “The last thing that the Warriors want is for him to just go sign with the Nets, or sign with the Knicks. So in addition to offering him the five-year contract and hoping he will either stay with them, or be willing to rehab with them and then be traded. The Warriors are wide open to considering sign-and-trade scenarios.”

Windhorst went on to detail that the Nets, for example, could theoretically make a deal for KD that would result in the Warriors getting a $35 million trade exception, which they could use to sign other players. He didn’t specify whether the Knicks are also in a position to make a deal featuring a trade exception.

According to the intro in this article from The Athletic — the rest of the article is behind the paywall, so maybe some reader with a subscription can let us know about any other necessary tidbits in the comment section — in the event the Warriors and Knicks decide to do this delayed sign-and-trade thing so that KD can get his supermax, a deal could not take place until Jan. 15, 2020.

If Durant is going to leave, a sign-and-trade as described above would be the best case scenario for the Warriors, since they would be able to get something in return for KD instead of just outright losing him. It would be also good for Durant, who would be so rich that he could build a Scrooge McDuck-style money room.

Would it be good for the Knicks?

This is the big question, from the New York perspective anyway. All season long the Knicks have emitted extreme confidence about their free agency plans — lest we forget, James Dolan himself told Michael Kay the following back in March:

“I can tell you, from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.

Durant’s injury seems to have thrown all those grand plans off track. He’s probably going to miss all of next season, so if you’re the Knicks and you still land him you’re really just hoping he can come back in the 2020-21 season and still be one of the best players in the league.

If you’re simply signing KD as a free agent and not giving up any assets, then it’s obviously worth it to take the risk. Title winning teams have top tier players, and even a 32-year-old Durant coming off a major Achilles injury figures to be an incredible basketballer. Before he ruptured his Achilles in the finals, KD was in the process of reminding everyone that the addition of him to the Warriors made them pretty much unbeatable.

What if the Knicks have to trade assets for a recovering Durant? Is that worth it?

That depends on the assets, of course, but unfortunately, it’s not totally clear what the Knicks would have to give up. Our friends at Knicks Film School recently did a bit of speculating, and under their scenario it’s obvious the Knicks should pull the trigger.

The truth is that no one seems to really know at this point what the Knicks might have to give up. Would the Warriors want some of the young players, such as Mitchell Robinson and/or Allonzo Trier? Would they desire draft picks? Would the Warriors even be in a position to ask for that much?

The thing is, this whole sign-and-trade scenario really only works if the Warriors and KD come to an agreement that they’re going to sign a contract but later make a trade, so perhaps the Warriors would be on the clock to move him, making it so they don’t have all the leverage.

What should the Knicks do?

The Knicks should hope that Durant is still on board for the plan that supposedly hasn’t actually been discussed yet, since teams can’t talk to free agents until June 30. That plan, of course, is KD and another free agent star signing with the Knicks and leading the team’s young guns to the promised land.

If that doesn’t happen, the Knicks should do what they’ve been saying, which is not chase second tier free agents and instead allow the current team to develop and come into their own. Maybe win 25 games next year instead of 17. Or get crazy and go for 30 victories!

In the event the Warriors call the Knicks and say ‘hey, we’re looking to do this delayed sign-and-trade thing,’ the front office should make an offer that doesn’t discard the team’s many young assets.

This is a rebuild of a rebuild of a train wreck, and it’s time the Knicks stuck to the plan.