With the absolutely wild news that the New York Knicks had dealt Kristaps Porzingis within hours of the All-Star big man leaving a meeting with management wanting a trade, the biggest-market team in the NBA has created enough cap space for two maximum-salaried free agents this coming summer.
The dream, for the Knicks, is mostly likely luring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving away from the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, respectively. The joke, for everyone familiar with the Knicks, is that they will end up spending north of $60 million on borderline stars like Tobias Harris and Eric Bledsoe.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but as odd as it is to see them trade the face of the franchise (Porzingis) for the guy they could have drafted instead of Frank Ntilikina (Dennis Smith Jr.), the Knicks just put a scare into the NBA, and they could be armed with the No. 1 pick in June to boot.
Here are the four guys they will be chasing hardest this summer:
It is no secret that Durant’s agent, Rich Kleiman, is a Knicks fan. It’s also no secret that Durant’s unwillingness to sign beyond this season with the Warriors has raised concern within the organization. Mix one with the other, sprinkle in the possibility that Durant sees restoring the Knicks to glory as the greatest possible achievement left in his career, and you can connect the Durant dots to Manhattan.
Irving grew up in New Jersey. He reportedly listed the Knicks among his desired trade destinations upon asking out of Cleveland, and it has long been rumored that he wants to play there one day. He publicly informed the Celtics that he would re-sign with them this summer, and they have no reason to believe he’s changed his mind, but speculation outside Boston runs to the contrary. Durant has also called Irving “one of my best friends,” which would make me pretty nervous if I were Danny Ainge.
Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson, lives in New Jersey and wields heavy influence over the Toronto Raptors star. Leonard spent much of his rehab away from the San Antonio Spurs in New York, and his former team reportedly feared that Uncle Dennis was trying to steer his nephew to the Big Apple.
Butler also included the Knicks among his short list of preferred destinations before he landed on the Philadelphia 76ers. Chemistry with new teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has proved only slightly better than chemistry with former teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. There was also a preseason report that former USA Basketball teammates Butler and Irving “are still trying to figure out a way to play together.” Irving shot that down, but hey — he’s also said the Earth is flat.
Klay Thompson is also among the biggest-name free agents this summer, but he has repeatedly said he wants to return to the Warriors. Even if he were to leave, the Los Angeles Lakers are likely runners-up for his services, considering his father has been affiliated with the organization for decades.
There is a pretty significant drop-off from there in 2019 free agency. The list includes a fresh-off-an-Achilles-injury DeMarcus Cousins, a 33-year-old Al Horford and face-of-a-perennially-average-franchise Kemba Walker. (Walker, for the record, is from The Bronx and a prime Knicks candidate.)
Then, you start getting into the list of guys like Harris, Bledsoe and Khris Middleton — all borderline All-Stars who would be good secondary or tertiary options behind one of the aforementioned stars.
Still, the Knicks have options, and that’s something they couldn’t say yesterday. It’s a start.
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