Steve Kerr stood outside the visitors’ locker room and waxed poetic about Madison Square Garden before Friday night’s game. The Warriors’ coach trotted out all the usual cliches about the arena’s greatness, including the mother of all MSG cliches about how much players love to play at the Mecca.
“It’s an incredible environment year in and year out,” said Kerr, who did not find it incredible enough to want to coach here 41 games a season when Phil Jackson offered him a job four years ago.
Three coaches later, Knicks fans have moved on, kind of, from losing the Kerr sweepstakes to Golden State. The big question for now is just how much of a lure the Mecca and New York would be for Kevin Durant.
In nine months, the Knicks will enter a critical free-agent summer with salary-cap space and a superstar available in Durant. He certainly made a bid to win over Knicks fans Friday night when he scored 25 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter to lift Golden State to a 128-100 win over the Knicks.
“It felt like when you catch every green light when you are trying to get somewhere,” Durant said of his mindset in the fourth quarter. “The crowd here just gets their team so hyped, and then they kind of raise the level of everyone else. You kind of take your energy in and let your instincts take over.”
Is it ridiculous to think that Durant would leave Golden State, one of the best teams in the history of the game, for a Knicks team that has won only one playoff series this century?
Maybe not. The way the Knicks played in the first three quarters Friday night, they looked a lot more attractive than they did when Kerr was deciding whether to come here. The Knicks led the world champs 84-81 after three quarters.
Enter Durant. Durant is a big man who can knock down three-pointers and defend any position. In other words, he’s about as far from conventional as you can get. And the safe, conventional choice would be to stay with the Warriors, who probably will win a third title this season.
It’s safe to say that loyalty doesn’t exactly seem to be his strong suit. Durant faced criticism when he opted to sign as a free agent with the Warriors in the summer of 2016 after eight seasons with Oklahoma City. Maybe he would be able to leave the Warriors for the right kind of challenge.
And there’s no doubt that making the Knicks relevant again would be the ultimate challenge. How many big names have come here during the past 20 years but failed to get the Knicks to the next level? Carmelo Anthony couldn’t do it. Amar’e Stoudemire couldn’t do it. Stephon Marbury couldn’t do it. Jason Kidd couldn’t do it. Larry Brown couldn’t do it. Phil Jackson couldn’t do it. Mike D’Antoni couldn’t do it. And the list just goes on and on.
What greater claim to greatness could there be than to do what no other player has been able to do before? LeBron James has gone places and rebuilt teams, but he never wanted to take on the challenge that is New York. Durant, who will turn 31 next September, might be at the point in his life when he is thinking legacy. What greater legacy could there be than to fix things here?
There’s little doubt that coach David Fizdale, who has this group of young players playing hard, wouldn’t mind adding him to the team. Fizdale said he doesn’t pay attention to rumors, but he certainly pays attention to the way Durant plays.
“He’s special. I don’t have to describe for you to understand what you just saw,’’ he said. “There’s only one guy, maybe, in the world that does that at that level. The shots he makes, the places he can get, it’s special.”