Well… Kevin Durant is hurt. It seems like its a full-on torn achilles this time (we’ll know for sure by the end of the day). This changes things.
First and foremost, it changes a lot for the NBA. A guy who is in the discussion for best player on the planet is likely going to be out all of next year.
What I want to discuss, though, is how this affects the Knicks.
The consensus around the league is that the Knicks are going to use one of their two max free agent slots on signing Kevin Durant this summer. The plan was to use the other on a KD friend like Kyrie Irving and then trading for Anthony Davis, or maybe even trading for AD into cap space if Kyrie doesn’t work out (and it sounds like he’s going to Brooklyn). That was not a secret. What does the KD injury change for the Knicks, though?
I don’t think it affects literally Kevin Durant’s free agency very much. The same teams will still want him even if he’s going to miss a year recovering from a torn achilles. In my mind, the guy this really does affect, though, is Anthony Davis.
I think the Knicks need to take themselves out of the AD conversation right now. Even if they also sign Durant, KD isn’t playing next year. They shouldn’t give up several RJ Barrett/other young players/future assets/cap space to bring in AD and go for a ‘chip next year while he’s on an expiring contract when they can’t even pair him with Durant for a full season. That would feel foolish.
Instead, the Knicks should be doing what teams like the Hawks are doing right now: acquire as many draft picks in exchange for bad contracts around the league as possible. Preferably, they are expiring contracts and they can then go all-in on AD as a free agent in a year as long as he is traded to not-the-Lakers.
This is the beauty of having all of this cap space. Even if KD wants to sign here and take up a max slot (or a 1+1 then a max contract, whatever) then they can still use the other slot to take on unwanted contracts around the league in exchange for draft capital. They get another year, while KD is out, to get a top-10 pick before reinserting KD in 2020.
Then, of course, KD may choose to re-up with Golden State or exercise his player option to stay one more year. I don’t know that that is any more likely now than it was before this injury, but if that happened anyway, then this would have been what I wanted to do since I don’t see a scenario where Kawhi Leonard chooses the Knicks over the Raptors or Clippers. If KD doesn’t sign here, though, they can go all-in on this strategy and continue building around the Barret-Kevin Knox-Mitchell Robinson young core that they might have had to give up to pair AD and KD in the Garden.
This injury certainly slows down the rebuild, but we should not forget that, so far, the Knicks have gone about this rebuild correctly. They can continue the path they are currently on towards building a contender. Whether or not you want to actually trust them to do the right thing is up to you. In my 22-ish years on this earth, I’ve certainly learned that the Knicksy thing to do would be to sign Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to max contracts then trade the world for AD and enjoy the 5th seed and be bounced in the first round. I’m hopeful that isn’t what happens.