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Thoughts on escaping the Kevin Durant fever dream

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KD ain’t walking through that door. Good!

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

Check out this nine-second clip from a late-season Knicks/Magic game. What stands out?

Hopefully you didn’t overthink it. Emmanuel Mudiay, a career 32% shooter from deep, hoists a momentum-less pull-up three with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. D.J. Augustin offers a passable contest, but he’s not selling out to bother the shot, much less block it. The defense is happy with Mudiay taking this shot. The Knicks are settling for what they can get, not what they want. That’s never good.

Kevin Durant, you may have heard, is now a Brooklyn Net. Will be for four years and $41M per, though given that KD’s likely to miss next season recovering from a torn Achilles it’s more like he’ll be paid $55M per the three years he’s not out injured. After months of Durant-to-New York speculation, he’s joining Kyrie Irving across town. The media blowback caricatures Knicks fans as apoplectic. Embarrassed. Pissed. You. You’re a Knick fan. You’ve had a night to sleep on it. You feel those things?

Pretend that you didn’t know the teams involved in this situation. A 17-win team loaded with youth, cap space and draft picks bypasses hitching their wagon to a max deal for a guy who’ll pro’ly be 32 when he next plays and who’s trying to come back from the most devastating injury in the sport. I can’t remember any team ever being as pressured to pay big money to a guy in Durant’s situation as the Knicks were. Yet imagine some other team — say, the Clippers — had been linked with landing Durant for months, then the Knicks swooped in and got him. You know what the reaction would be? “Stupid typical Knicks overreach to win the backpages. Again.” We’d hear about Antonio McDyess and Amar’e Stoudemire and how all these years later New York hasn’t learned a damn thing.

Beyond the risk of banking it all on Durant, there’s the hidden taxes and fees that factor into the cost of signing a prestige free agent. The Nets didn’t simply write him a check for $164,000,000.00. Check the the fine print to see the full cost. To get KD, Brooklyn is now:

  • paying him max money to not play when he’s 31
  • dependent on him recovering to like 80% of the player he was as he enters the probable decline period of his career
  • paying Kyrie Irving nearly one-third of the cap to be God’s co-pilot
  • losing Ed Davis to a two-year, $10M contract with the Jazz
  • signing KD’s My Buddy, DeAndre Jordan, to a four-year, $40M contract when most people through he’d end up somewhere near the veteran’s minimum

Beyond the injury risk and the total cost of building around Durant, there is this to consider: KD and Kyrie are now, without question, the most prominent athletes in New York City. Brooklyn bought its way into NYC relevance. For the first time, there will be expectations and the heat of the Gotham spotlight. Durant struggled with the press in Oklahoma City. Even with all his individual and team success as a Warrior, he argues with nobodies online. How’s it going to go when the New York media starts reporting whispers about his recovery taking too long? Or if he returns and doesn’t look like himself? That’d be natural, of course. But when’s the last time the NYC sports media backed off a headline because patience is natural?

Irving is carving out an Alex Rodriguez-like career as a brilliant athlete whose accomplishments are overshadowed by his weirdness. For all A-Rod’s feats, is he missed in Seattle? Revered in Texas? Beloved in the Bronx? Kyrie will always be the guy who hit the Game 7 shot in Cleveland, but is he missed there? Boston stopped missing him before he even left. Now Irving faces a year without Durant, for a team the local and national press will be all over, a team that’s paying DeAndre Jordan 2.5 times what Jarrett Allen will make. The Nets need Kyrie to be great. They need him to be healthy. They need him to be a leader. You trust that he’s up for all that? In this market?

Meanwhile, the media needs its trusted narratives to keep churning out them takes and raking in them chumps, and few narratives in all of sports are more reliable than “LOL typical Knicks.” So they laugh because instead of buying into all that risk, the Knicks sign this 24-year-old:

But the inherent hypocrisy of media is to criticize others for doing the same things they do. I suppose that’s not just the media’s hypocrisy. We all do that. So the Knicks are stupid for giving Joakim Noah 4 years/$72M and ignoring his injury history. They’re stupid for not giving Durant 4 years/$164M and not ignoring his. The truth is until they start winning, the Knicks can’t win with a lot of people. It’s not fun to endure as a fan. But when your team has spent literally decades screwing up, the benefit of the doubt is not within reach.

We ridicule the Isiah Thomas logic that whoever gets the best player in a deal wins the deal. Rightly so. But while no one would argue Julius Randle will ever be at the level of a KD, the larger holistic truth is rather than have Durant eat 36% of their cap in a year he won’t even suit up, the Knicks signed a 24-year-old not coming off a devastating injury to a deal that takes up 19%. A 24-year-old who’s shown steady Improvement and already hit marks as high as 25 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 assists per 36 minutes. What’s better for the development of R.J. Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina and the other young guys next year? Playing alongside Randle? Or a ghost?

You wanna talk “LOL”? Look around the league. Look without blinders. Forget about reputations; just look at what teams are doing. Dallas gave Kristaps Porzingis a fully guaranteed max extension, with no injury protections. Philadelphia is trying win with five frontcourtmen. Boston couldn’t keep Kyrie, then lost Al Horford to a major rival. Orlando, all forwards and bigs, drafted another and then gave $30M to Al-Farouq Aminu. Phoenix could have come out of the last few weeks with Jarrett Culver and D’Angelo Russell and ended up with Cameron Johnson and Ricky Rubio. Houston couldn’t make a move on Jimmy Butler because last summer their Jimmy Neutron front office decided maxing out Chris Paul at 32 was worth the risk. It nearly was. At least the Rockets were thisclose to a title when they went for broke. The Knicks aren’t.

Years ago, NBA commissioner and Little Nero cosplayer David Stern chided the Knicks as “not a model of intelligent management.” He wasn’t wrong. But if there’s been one hallmark of the current front office, it’s that they don’t feel pressured to make dumb heat-of-the-moment mistakes. And note the language below.

It’s the “and owner Jim Dolan” that catches my eye. A cynical rhetorical analysis might conclude the use of the conjunction suggests both the Knicks and Dolan came to the same conclusion, but separately, raising all our worst nightmares from Lucky Sperm Jim’s past interventions. I took it to suggest a unified front. My only fear after the Knicks passed on KD was that Mount Dolan would erupt and force Scott Perry to pull that burning wad of cash from his pocket and spend it on the wrong buy.

Instead, the Knicks brought in vets who can play to short-term, reasonable deals. The kind of deals that are easy to include in a trade whenever the next superstar or two agitate for greener pastures. The kind of deals we’re used to other teams making. The kind the Knicks are making now. Finally.

In the clip this piece opened with, Damyean Dotson kicked out to Mudiay. The defense won that battle. Next year that kickout could be to Reggie Bullock, one of those vets who can play the Knicks just signed.

When that happens the Knicks will be getting the shot they want. They won’t be settling. A girl could get used to that.