One Achilles injury later to Kevin Durant, the New York Knicks’ offseason may have burst.
Since October, 2018, New York Knicks fans envisioned the sight of Kevin Durant wearing No. 35 at Madison Square Garden up to 41 times per season and a return to the playoffs. Rarely, is a player capable of that by himself, with LeBron James last to do that with his return to Cleveland in 2014.
Everything at least seemed promising. No, Durant could not sign until early July, when the NBA free-agent moratorium ends. The Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets even lurk for his services, but for a sliver of hope, the Knicks were the team most linked to signing maybe the best basketball player in the world.
So, everything crashed and burned on Monday. Almost everything.
As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reported, Durant’s MRI will likely reveal a torn right Achilles’ tendon, suffered in Monday’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
This is an injury, in recent seasons, suffered by DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Kobe Bryant. Its timeline is the devastating part, potentially resulting in a 12-month timetable to return. If so, that rules Durant out for all of 2019-20, with the earliest possible return in October, 2020.
There is never a proper timing for injury, but Durant was three weeks a free agency potentially bigger than 2016, when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors. The Knicks sat at the forefront for most of the speculation. Maybe they were even lined up to make a signing happen.
Now, the New York Knicks, and other prospective teams, must debate giving Durant the four-year max contract he would have definitely received before Game 5.
It suddenly becomes a clouded situation for New York’s front office. Don’t offer Durant anything, watch him play for someone else in 2020-21 at the same, elite level and have another painful chapter written in franchise history.
Do offer Durant a max contract, watch him play in 2020-21 and not look like the same player with continuous injury risk, while that salary stays on the payroll for two more seasons.
The Knicks can still offer a four-year contract and wait for 15 months for Durant’s return. There was just an expected waiting period for another star, Kristaps Porzingis, before he requested a trade. That likely creates another long year in the Big Apple, even if Durant is on the other side; that thought just lingered for 82 games, except hypothetically, and a 17-65 record as the result.
It is not an either-or situation, as the Knicks will take a risk no matter which path they travel. No “right” answer exists now, on June 11, 2019. Maybe one becomes apparent in a year or two, but even placing blame or credit then is difficult.
Alternatives exist in this deep free-agent class, to let the Knicks breathe a little calmer. Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving are just some of the players set for the open market; but none of them have been strongly linked to New York. Irving’s ties have mostly connected to the Nets, while Walker could stay put for the supermax. Leonard is one game from an NBA Finals win in Toronto.
Cross Durant off the list. Cross those other three off the list. That leaves a free agent class with talent, but none who will take the Knicks over the top. The Anthony Davis trade-scenario remains, but at the cost of wiping out the cupboard, and only for a one-year contract.
Where does that leave everything? Another sub-par year, record-wise, waiting for the kids to develop, including the soon-to-be third overall pick, RJ Barrett. Then, take a dive into the weaker-but-still-talented 2020 free-agent class.
Durant’s injury may have recalibrated everything this summer. Sometimes, unexpected circumstances arise. For the New York Knicks, if they were in-line for this future hall of famer, everything just changed, still set to offer a max contract or not.