NBA PM: Another Durant Suitor Prepping for ’16?

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Knicks Prepping For Run at Durant?

We’re still two years away from the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, hits free agency but that hasn’t stopped teams around the league from already preparing themselves to make a run at him when that time comes.

Earlier this summer, the Washington Wizards hired David Adkins as an assistant coach. The vacant position had a long list of applicants with extensive NBA experience, yet the Wizards went with Adkins, who had spent the last five years as an assistant coach for the Maryland women’s basketball program. Going from a college women’s basketball assistant coach to the NBA is as uncommon of a leap as you will find, but Adkins had something going for him that none of the other applicants did: a close relationship with Durant stemming from his time coaching him in high school.

In Adkins’ defense, he has worked with several other professionals including Greivis Vasquez, Victor Oladipo and Alex Len, and was very well respected prior to joining the Wizards, but it seems that his relationship with Durant is what pushed him over the top. John Wall, the face of the Wizards franchise, has made no secret about his interest in helping recruit Durant back closer to home, something that Durant admitted was intriguing to him during Team USA’s training camp before he pulled out.

“I grew up watching the Wizards, (the) Bullets-Wizards,” Durant said to the Washington Post then. “I grew up taking the train to that arena all the time. I watched Georgetown, I watched the Bullets, I watched the (WNBA’s) Mystics, so that whole city is a part of me, is in my blood. Like I said, I love going back home to see my family and stuff and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”

Durant does indeed love Oklahoma City, but has to be a bit frustrated by the team’s lack of success. He’s emerged into the league’s second-best player next to only LeBron James, yet only has one NBA Finals appearance to show in seven seasons. He has a certified second star next to him in Russell Westbrook, but the team has not been anywhere near as formidable since sign-and-trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets when they couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension with him.

These next two years are going to be critical as Durant is clearly not committing to them beyond 2016 right now. At that point in time he’ll have played nine years with the Thunder franchise and if he doesn’t have a championship ring to show for it at that point, it’s going to be hard for him to believe that things are going to be any different. He’s going to go into free agency with an open mind in that case and could be lured away by a team that offers him a better opportunity to contend.

The Thunder’s lone advantage in trying to re-sign him is going to be the fact that they have his Bird rights and can offer him more money than any other team. However, Durant’s recent extension of his Nike endorsement deal is one of the richest in sports history. It’s going to pay him in the neighborhood of $300 million over the course of 10 years, which is actually more than he’s going to get for playing. Add all of the other endorsement deals he has, like the most recent one he signed with Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, and money is going to be one of the least important things on his mind going into free agency. He’s doing just fine monetarily, and is going to want to be in the situation that gives him the best opportunity to compete for a championship, especially after seeing how much the aforementioned James benefited from a change of scenery and improved supporting cast. James went to the Finals in four straight years after leaving the team that drafted him and won twice. Now he’s returned to that franchise and they seem to be equipped with a team that may be better than any he had in Miami. The competitor in Durant, who has consistently finished second fiddle to James throughout his career, whether it be in MVP voting until this past season or Finals appearances, has to be jealous and interested in taking a page out of his own book in order to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy that has been so elusive so far in his career.

By the time 2016 rolls around, there could be more than a third of the league that has cleared enough cap space to make a run at Durant. Judging by their recent hiring of former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Brian Keefe, another coach very close to Durant, it looks like the New York Knicks could be another team lining up to make a run at Durant. They’re poised to have plenty of cap room, and potentially two stars as they already have Carmelo Anthony locked up to a long-term deal and the space to sign another star this offseason. With the cap poised to increase significantly by 2016 and the Zen Master Phil Jackson working his magic in the front office, the Knicks should have no trouble being in a position to make a convincing pitch to Durant. Not only is he close with Keefe, but they have the allure of Jackson’s championship background, one of the league’s biggest media markets and another close friend of Durant’s in Derek Fisher, who he played with in Oklahoma City for a couple of years.

In all actuality, the Wizards and Knicks wouldn’t have made these hires if they didn’t think that they were the right fit and there were benefits beyond their Durant ties. They’re still two years away from being able to even talk to him about signing with them, but the Thunder should be painfully aware that they are going to be facing stiff competition come that summer, especially if Durant is still ringless.

“Two (championship) years straight? That would be cool,” Durant said to USA Today Sports in July. “It would definitely be tough to (leave then). That’s one of those things where you’ve got a dynasty now. But like I said, I don’t want to think too far down the line. I’m trying to focus on today. I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city, but we’ll see.”

‘Melo Wanted Long-Term Deal

The New York Knicks, by virtue of keeping Carmelo Anthony alone, were one of the winners of the offseason. Not so much because it makes them a better team now, but because stars are one of the hardest things to get in this league. Keeping them is even harder, and good luck on trying to recruit a star without one already in place. Keeping Anthony was a necessity in order to get back to a championship level and they’re going to have Anthony in place for the next five years.

News has surfaced today that the Knicks were willing to do whatever it took to keep Anthony, even if that meant having to settle on a short-term deal that would have allowed him to opt out two years in so that he could re-sign for the increased max with a higher salary cap like LeBron James is planning to with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, Anthony wasn’t interested in going through the free agency process again anytime soon. Citing the stress that he experienced with his run through free agency and all the hoopla that came prior to it, Anthony never strongly considered inking a short-term deal.

Only time will tell what kind of shape the Knicks are in the final two years of the deal when they’re paying Anthony $26.2 million at 34 years of age and $27.9 million at 35 years of age, but the security of having a star in place right now to help remain relevant and recruit other stars is well worth putting the concerns of the long-term risk on the back burner.