Of all the foolish things the New York Knicks have done over the years, some of which have made them one of the biggest laughing stocks in the NBA, this might be the biggest piece of buffoonery in franchise history. According to Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Knicks owner James Dolan wasn’t willing to offer free agent Kevin Durant a max contract because of concerns over his recent Achilles injury. If true, it represents the latest and perhaps biggest failure by the Knicks in their effort to actually field a team that can compete for a championship.
As we now know, Durant has chosen to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. He is being joined there by point guard Kyrie Irving and center DeAndre Jordan. The addition of that trio immediately makes the Nets one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league. Meanwhile, the Knicks had to settle for making Julius Randle their big addition at the start of NBA free agency.
To be fair, there’s no guarantee that Durant would have signed with the Knicks. But not being willing to offer him a max contract did guarantee that Durant wouldn’t sign with the Knicks. Despite the injury during the NBA Finals, Durant was still the prized jewel of the NBA free agent market. There was no way he was going to sign for anything less. Not being willing to offer him a max deal of $164 million over four years essentially took the Knicks out of the running for Durant.
It’s one thing not to land Durant. It’d be one thing if he preferred Brooklyn to Midtown or found the organization to be a better fit for whatever reason. But it’s another thing to give up on your pursuit of the best player available, which is what the Knicks did by refusing to offer a max contract. Even if there are concerns about how Durant will come back from his Achilles injury, he’s still a player who’s worth the risk. He’s one of the few players in the game who’s worth taking a chance on, even in an imperfect situation.
After a league-low 17 wins and six straight seasons without a playoff appearance, the Knicks needed to make a big splash in free agency this summer. They needed to do everything they could to sign Durant, injury or not. Instead, they folded their hand by not offering him a max contract. Now, they are left more or less where they started when the offseason began.
Signing Randle isn’t going to move the needle, and there’s no guarantee that contingent of young players, including rookie R.J. Barrett, will be able to lead a turnaround without a bonafide star to build around. Even if offering Durant a max contract wouldn’t have been enough to land him and Irving, Knicks fans have to live with knowing the team’s ownership didn’t do everything they could to make it happen.