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Highlights: Nets vs. Celtics
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The scope of the New York Knicks’ failure to sign a star free agent during the 2019 offseason is often somewhat limited to just Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Yes, those were their two top targets, but plenty of other superstars were available last summer that they missed on as well. One, Kemba Walker, is a New York native. Yet when the time came to make his decision, he committed the cardinal New York sin of signing with Boston, though as he revealed on The Ringer’s R2C2 podcast, he did seriously consider the Knicks. 

He revealed that “The Knicks were definitely a priority at one point,” but New York’s failure to lure a co-star is what eventually pushed him to Boston. “Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities because I was thinking that they were gonna get another player,” Walker said. “But it didn’t work out.”

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Walker is directly asked whether that player was Kevin Durant, and, while he said no, he laughed through his answer. Rumors swirled throughout the 2018-19 season that Durant was destined for New York, but on an appearance on Showtime’s All the Smoke in February, Durant claimed that hype was overblown. “That’s the media hyping that (crap) up,” Durant said. “I never came out and said anything about me wanting to play for the Knicks, ever. Ever.”

“It wasn’t like I had something against the Knicks. I just didn’t like all that attention when I was playing for another team. I never really was big on that New York thing. It was just everybody else, the media, the fans. The Knick fans, they wanted a superstar to come play for them finally. I never promised anybody I was playing for the Knicks.”

Now, even if Durant wasn’t seriously considering the Knicks, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Walker knew that. Durant largely went radio silent after rupturing his Achilles tendon during the NBA Finals. The Nets telegraphed their intent to sign two superstars when they created the cap space to do so by trading Allen Crabbe on June 7, and reports had already essentially confirmed Irving planned to sign with Brooklyn. But Durant’s free agency was more suspenseful. It wasn’t until the final days before the frenzy began that the Nets appeared to have won out. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported that Durant took a recruitment call from Kawhi Leonard mere days before free agency began. The Nets, on paper, didn’t appear to be a certainty, and if Walker hadn’t heard from Durant, he would have been justified in trusting the months of reporting that had linked the former Finals MVP to the Knicks. 

Even if Durant himself wasn’t interested in the Knicks, the process of elimination suggests that he is, indeed, who Walker was talking about. The Knicks were never linked to Jimmy Butler, who agreed to join the Miami Heat on the first day of free agency. There never appeared to be much of a chance for Khris Middleton or Klay Thompson to leave their teams. Kristaps Porzingis was restricted, but I think we’re safe in assuming he was not interested in an offer sheet from the Knicks. The only other star on the market was Leonard, whom the Knicks reportedly canceled a meeting with as they knew they didn’t have much of a chance at signing him and wanted to focus on other free agents. If we rule out Irving due to position, Durant is the only logical option.

Whether Walker had any real reason to believe Durant might have wanted to partner with him in New York is unclear. The Durant-Irving partnership had been rumored for months. Their friendship was the talk of All-Star Weekend. The weeks in which Irving appeared destined for Brooklyn and Durant’s future was less certain suggest that he might have kept an open mind, but he didn’t even meet with the Knicks. He may have considered them at some point, but by the time he reached free agency, everything he has done and said suggests that they were out of the running. 

If anything, Walker might have fallen victim to the same delusions that the Knicks did. They spent months acting as if getting two star free agents was a certainty. They traded Porzingins, a star in his own right, to create the cap space to do so. James Dolan went on the radio and practically called his shot. Without knowing for certain, Walker might have read those tea leaves and assumed that they knew Durant was coming. Obviously, he wasn’t. 

Walker wound up signing with Boston. Despite his New York heritage, the decision was undoubtedly the correct one. Boston is in line for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ll be contenders for years to come behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. New York’s future is far less certain. They haven’t made the playoffs in six years, and no future free agency coups appear imminent. Walker spent the first eight seasons of his career losing in Charlotte. He deserved to play for a winner, and he has. 

And honestly? The Knicks are better off for having avoided Walker as well. Small point guards don’t tend to age well. Walker is 30 and is currently working through knee problems. Given their younger roster and relatively modest immediate ambitions, having a 30-year-old point guard ready to win right away doesn’t really make sense. If they had landed another star, Walker would’ve been a wonderful sidekick. But given where both sides wound up, Walker joining the Celtics seems like the best decision for everyone. 

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