The New York Knicks dominated the Kevin Durant rumor mill for the better part of a year. They traded Kristaps Porzingis in large part to generate the cap space to sign not only Durant but another max player. Owner James Dolan appeared on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN Radio and predicted that the Knicks would have “a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” Nothing is ever certain in free agency, but the tea leaves were pointing in a certain direction. 

And then, a number of things changed in the month leading up to the offseason. Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon, likely knocking him out for the 2019-20 season. Rumors began tying Kyrie Irving, one of New York’s other rumored targets, not to the Knicks, but their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Nets. When free agency ultimately began on June 30th, Durant announced that he would be joining Irving in Brooklyn, putting an end to months of Knicks speculation for good. 

However, in an interview with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Durant made it clear that the Knicks were never really in the running to begin with. “If I was leaving the Warriors, it was always going to be for the Nets,” Durant said. “They got the pieces and a creative front office. I just like what they were building.”

From Durant’s perspective, the appeal of the Nets was obvious. They were able to retain the bulk of last year’s playoff team, losing only D’Angelo Russell among last season’s best players, but replacing him with Irving. The Knicks needed to give away Porzingis, a player Durant himself dubbed “a unicorn” just to create the space to potentially sign him and a second star in the first place. From a basketball perspective, the two situations were not exactly comparable. 

But if the Nets were “always” his choice if he left Golden State, it’s worth asking how long “always” really means. When asked when he made his decision, Durant responded “June 30. That morning. I never wanted to disrespect the game by putting my focus on the future. It was always about that day, focusing on that day and what was most important that day. And throughout the season, basketball is the No. 1 thing.”

It would be naive to assume that Durant never once thought about free agency before it arrived, but the indication here is that Durant did not take part in the complex machinations leading up to his decision that many assumed he would. Dolan’s quote, for instance, led many to believe that he had inside information about Durant’s decision. With the benefit of hindsight, though, it is easier to believe that the Knicks were acting on faith that Durant would come if they traded Porzingis rather than actual assurances. If he was truly judging the two teams as they were when he hit free agency in June, as opposed to from a place of long-term planning, the Nets were simply positioned better than the Knicks were. 

One of the major lessons of free agency this offseason was that competence is something to be rewarded. The Nets landed Durant and Irving over the Knicks. The Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard when the Lakers couldn’t. For Durant to say that he was always going to pick the Nets shows just how aware modern players are of every element of an organization. The Nets and Clippers had been building their teams the right way for years. Players noticed and wanted to be a part of what they were building. The same could not be said for the Knicks, who didn’t seem to have Durant’s attention. 

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August 8, 2019 at 12:06PM