New York Knicks fans, we have finally, mercifully, made it. The season is over, the pain has ceased. The team can’t lose a game until at least October. Now it’s time for the period of speculation, which will really get going depending on where the ping pong balls fall on lottery night May 14th.
With free agency beginning on July 1, the Knicks have been pegged as the likely destination for current Golden State Warriors small forward Kevin Durant. According to Frank Isola of The Athletic, league executives are convinced that it’s happening.
“So sure are some executives and player agents of a Durant-Irving pairing in New York that one agent told The Athletic that Durant and Irving are debating on who will sign first. Why is that important? The player that is signed second is viewed as the follower, not the leader.”
Now, just as a disclaimer. I am in no way acting as if this is done and that Durant is 100% coming here. However, under the assumption that he is, I wanted to take a look at the potential running mates he could bring along because the Knicks have two max slots and there are several other stars out there.
With that in mind, I’ll look at the following free agents-to-be as it pertains to fit with Durant, fit on the Knicks, cost, age, talent, etc: Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, and Kyrie Irving. I present…the Kevin Durant Plus-One Rankings.
Jimmy Butler, SF, Philadelphia 76ers (30 years old, 6-8, 232)
Butler is an uber-talented, two-way player who has worked his way up throughout a stellar career. He has been known to be a locker room problem, as he attempted (successfully) to force his way out of Chicago and then Minnesota. Once he was dealt to the 76ers this season his production decreased, as he was playing on a much better team. However, he finished this season averaging 18.7 points, 5.3 total rebounds, 4.0 assists, with a line of .462/.347.855.
He’d slide in at the two, in between Durant and Dennis Smith Jr. While Butler is mostly an isolation player, he can shoot the ball when necessary, and he’d add a nice defensive presence. On paper, this would make sense. However, when you consider Butler’s reputation as a bad locker room guy, and then realize that you would be paying a thirty year old with a lot of wear and tear over $32 million per year, it becomes tricky. While Butler is a very solid basketball player, he’s a better fit on a team like Brooklyn where he can be the man.
Durant Plus-One Rating: 4/10
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Golden State Warriors (29 years old, 6-11, 270)
DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins is an interesting player. He tore his Achilles in 2018 while playing for the Pelicans, and then was unable to get a deal, so basically got mad and called the Warriors, essentially agreeing to sign for way less than he was worth in order to get a ring. Before his injury, he was averaging over 25 points and 12 rebounds a night, one of the three best centers in the Association.
Over the past year, he’s recovered from the injury and is slowly working himself back into form, to the tune of 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game on .480/.274/.736 shooting. He clearly isn’t his former self, and who knows if he ever will be. On the Knicks, he could form a devastating frontcourt along with Durant and Mitchell Robinson. Cousins is also already Durant’s teammate, so there might be some rapport there already. Boogie’s passing and shooting are really valuable qualities for a big and he could open up David Fizdale’s offense. Plus, he’d cost less than some other players because of the injury. However, he’d likely only accept a short-term deal, and there is uncertainty around his injury. Will he ever become a top-notch player again? It remains to be seen, and that’s why the Knicks cannot afford to take this risk.
DPO Rating: 5.5/10
Kemba Walker, G, Charlotte Hornets (29 years old, 6-1, 184)
Oh yeah. This is the one folks. Kemba has been an underrated player for years but finally broke out fully this year, establishing himself as elite. Despite a lackluster supporting cast in Charlotte, Walker nearly willed his team to the playoffs, averaging 25.6 points, 4.4 total rebounds, and 5.9 assists a night with a line of .434/.356/.844. He was absolutely electric and has cemented himself as a top-20 player in the league.
Walker would be an excellent fit next to Durant, where he would function as the primary ball-handler and creator, running the offense and scoring when needed. He and Durant would be a tough matchup to deal with, as both can get their shot from anywhere on the floor. Plus, Walker is from New York, and who could forget the way he lit up the Garden during his time at UCONN?
DPO Rating: 9.5/10
Khris Middleton, SG, Milwaukee Bucks (28 years old, 6-8, 222)
Some may laugh at this one, but Middleton is an All-Star and provides three things that the Knicks currently lack: defense, shooting, and length. Middleton was an All-Star for the first time in his career this year and did so by averaging 18.3 points, 6 total rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game this year on .441/.378/.837 shooting.
While Middleton isn’t a flashy player, and is not worth the max, he is very consistent and can be a valuable asset to a team looking for shooting and defense. If the Knicks could get him for less than $25 million per year, I think it would be a solid signing,
DPO Rating: 6.5/10
Kyrie Irving, G, Boston Celtics (27 years old, 6-3, 197)
I specifically saved Irving for last, because he is the most controversial, and he’s also the player on this list that I think is most likely to end up teaming up with Durant in Gotham. He is by far the most talented player in consideration, and he has a championship pedigree, but as I outlined here, there are some problems. Irving has had a number of knee surgeries and has also shown a tendency to call out younger teammates publicly, which is especially concerning considering many of the Knicks that are expected to contribute next season are younger players.
Sure, Irving averaged 23.8 points, 5 total rebounds, and 6.9 assists a game on .487/.401/.873 shooting this year. He’s incredibly talented and would be a great fit alongside Durant on the court. It’s hard to bypass a guy with this amount of offensive skill in favor of someone like a Kemba Walker, but injury history, leadership, and personality have to be factors when deciding who to give a contract worth over $30 million a year to.
DPO Rating: 8/10
I very much look forward to this summer, with both the draft and free agency looming, Who do you guys think I left out? How would you rank these players in terms of DPO? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @aidankunst. New York Forever.