We’ve reached the annual lull in the sports calendar. The baseball season is roughly halfway over and NFL and college football training camps are still a month away. Aside from the Women’s World Cup, there’s not a lot to watch.
Which may explain the fascination on talk radio and internet chat rooms over NBA free agency. This was supposed to be a watershed summer, when the league’s landscape underwent seismic change as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving and many others changed teams.
Davis is now a Laker, and it seems highly unlikely that Irving returns to Boston. But it’s now entirely possible that the next month may bring little major news, because it makes sense for many of the top free agents to stay put.
If so, you can blame Durant’s ruptured Achilles tendon for that. Durant was supposed to be the grand prize in this summer’s free agency bonanza, but when he aggravated the injury that had sidelined him for most of the playoffs, every team with salary cap room started scrambling to reevaluate their prospects.
Durant may not take the court again until just before the 2020 presidential election. Any team that signs him must be prepared to eat a season’s worth of salary. That includes his current employer, the Golden State Warriors, who figure to take a major step back next season thanks to major injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson.
That prospect doesn’t seem to have scared off the New York Knicks, who had been clearing cap space for the past two years, hoping to lure Durant and Irving to Gotham. They are reportedly prepared to sign and redshirt Durant while continuing a tanking plan which makes the Philadelphia 76ers’ recent “Process” look downright hasty.
Unless Durant has a grievance with the Warriors over the way they handled his ill-fated return to the court--and many people read that into his decision to have his surgery in New York rather than San Francisco--he’d be wiser to stay put. He has a coach (Steve Kerr) who knows how to get the best out of him, and Golden State can offer an extra year and more money.
Plus, he’ll be 31 when he next takes the court, and there’s no guarantee he’ll ever regain his dynamic scoring touch. (Just ask his teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, who struggled to return from a similarly devastating injury.) He should come with a “Buyer Beware” tag.
Given all that uncertainty, why would Durant risk his reputation on a Knicks franchise that has been a laughingstock for nearly two decades?
A similar quandary faces Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title earlier this month. Like Durant, Leonard opted out of the final year of his contract to test free agency, and he is also looking at a major market.In his case, his hometown L.A. Clippers are run far more professionally than the Knicks. But would he have a better chance at winning (or happiness) with the Clippers than in Toronto, where he’s now more popular than Drake? He certainly would be wealthier north of the border.
Durant’s and Leonard’s decisions will be the dominoes that affect nearly every other team--even the Washington Wizards, who have neither cap space nor a general manager but could be inclined to trade Bradley Beal to a desperate team like the Dallas Mavericks that shoots an air ball in free agency. They already took three players off the Lakers’ hands Monday, opening a max contract slot in L.A.
Irving seems destined for Brooklyn, but he has shown he’s incapable of being the alpha dog on a championship team. The Nets coveted Irving and Davis but now have to reevaluate their plans.
If Durant and Leonard stay put, that could mean bigger paydays for Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Al Horford and even former Virginia star Malcolm Brogdon, a restricted free agent in Milwaukee. Teams that miss out on the big fish may feel urgency to sign someone--anyone--and overpay for lesser talent. (I’m looking at you, Knicks.)
None of this will become official until the NBA’s new calendar year begins on Sunday. Even then, despite all the speculation, the action may not live up to the speculation.