When New York traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas to create enough cap space for two max players, there were people in the organization who felt confident that they were going to sign both Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Knicks obviously had a bad read on the situation, given Durant said that he decided in February or March that he was going to the Nets.
That was a costly error. After executing their “Plan B” in free agency, the Knicks fired head coach David Fizdale after a 4-18 start and, a few weeks later, fired team president Steve Mills.
Again, to the Knicks fan who lives and dies with this team every day, this is ancient history.
So how is it relevant to today’s Knicks?
After trading Porzingis, Mills was all-in on free agency last summer. In large part, that approach cost him his job.
New president Leon Rose has different avenues of roster construction available to him. He’s not tied solely to free agency or tanking for a top draft pick.
Rose can choose to build slowly through the draft (New York has seven first-round picks over the next four years); he can choose to build through free agency (the Knicks have enough financial flexibility to chase top free agents) or he can pursue top players via trade (using those future picks as trade capital).
Obviously, it’s one thing to have the assets to build a roster. It’s another thing to use those assets well. Rose and his team have to make the right decisions with the tools at their disposal. But the idea that all of these assets are at their disposal is, at least, a step in the right direction. (GM Scott Perry and Mills deserve credit, of course, for preserving that flexibility).
Now, the idea that Durant knew in February or March that he wasn’t going to the Knicks will surprise some in the organization.
One staffer told a friend plainly in March that the Knicks were getting Durant and, if Durant was coming, so was Irving.
After the Porzingis trade, some working in ticket sales actually used Durant-Irving as a sales pitch. Several fans said that a Knicks ticket salesperson referenced the idea that the club was going to sign both Durant and Irving in the summer when talking to the fans about purchasing tickets.
To be fair, those sales people may have been reacting to what they saw in the media. Durant-to-the-Knicks rumors persisted throughout the 2019-20 season. As Redick notes on his podcast, many around the league assumed Durant was coming to the Knicks in the first half of the 2019-20 season.
The Knicks indirectly reinforced that belief by what they said publicly.
In a letter to fans prior to the 2019 offseason, Mills noted that New York had enough cap space to sign two max players. Knicks owner James Dolan said in a March radio interview that he expected the Knicks to have a “very successful” offseason.
But it wasn’t just what was said publicly.
Some members of the Knick organization felt that they were still in the running for Durant in the days leading up to free agency. Some still believe that Durant would have come to New York if he didn’t get hurt in the NBA Finals.
Clearly, they had a bad read on the situation. Also, the people I spoke to and cited as sources had a bad read on the Durant. I apologize for the error.
Obviously, Rose and the Knicks can’t afford to make a Durant-like error. At the moment, it seems like they’re well positioned to avoid it.
They have draft picks, cap space and trade capital. Will they avoid the mistakes of past regimes? We’ll find out.
But it doesn’t seem like they’re “all-in” on a top free agent or trying to trade for an established star. That, at least, is a step in the right direction.