Kevin Durant was on the practice court at the NBA Players Association facility just off of Times Square on Thursday night, the flesh and blood 6-9 version. But just outside Madison Square Garden, a much larger version of the Warriors’ high-scoring forward adorned a billboard that teased Knicks fans and maybe front-office personnel with hopes of what could be.
He will be inside the Garden on Friday night, still in a Warriors uniform rather than the cartoonish likeness drawn on the billboard, which wishfully had Durant in a Knicks uniform alongside Kristaps Porzingis. The billboard, put up by Knicks fans who might be savvier about their marketing and advertising business than choosing a team to support, includes the message “CAN YOU MAKE NY SPORTS GREAT AGAIN?” and a hashtag, #KDNY2019.
“I mean, to be honest, I don’t know how I feel about that type of stuff,” Durant said. “It’s cool. No disrespect, but I’m not really impressed with that type of stuff. I just really like playing basketball. I try to focus. My entertainment is really what happens on the basketball court. You know what I’m saying? I know all of that stuff is a part of it, but for me, I don’t really get up for that stuff.”
It isn’t a complete pipe dream, with the Knicks feverishly plotting to create salary-cap space for a max contract next summer, the vision that they want to sell to fans desperate to see the franchise come back to prominence.
It certainly would take a hard sell from the Knicks, who at most would be able to offer Durant a four-year, $164-million contract. The Warriors can extend a five-year, $221-million deal.
Durant told The Athletic on Wednesday, “I am thinking about the money I’m going to get. I never got the deal. I’ve just seen a bunch of dudes around the league making so much money — and I’m happy for them. But I know I deserve that, too. That’s the only thing I’m probably thinking about, to be honest.”
But beyond the money, the Warriors can offer the allure of being a part of a team that right now is the NBA’s two-time defending champion and is the favorite to win it again this season. They also are moving into a new downtown San Francisco arena, have a beloved head coach in Steve Kerr and feature a team that, when DeMarcus Cousins gets healthy, will boast five first-team All-Stars from last season. There is little pressure on Durant, playing alongside two-time MVP Steph Curry, who scored 51 points Wednesday night — in three quarters.
The Knicks don’t quite have that, but they have a coach in David Fizdale who has a reputation as a salesman to players and who put that on display for the Warriors last season when he visited the team while out of work.
The Knicks also have New York, where the Warriors will spend the weekend. They have a game in Brooklyn on Sunday.
Durant said his only plans are the games and noted that the Garden holds a special place for him.
“It’s like a playground with walls,” he said. “You walk outside and you’re right on the street. It feels like you’re playing at Rucker Park, just indoors. And that energy, I remember my first game as a rookie. I can remember I played pretty well, I had 30 that night. My family came up and we stayed after the game, so we celebrated a little bit. But that energy — it’s just pure, pure love for the game at the Garden.”