In the gym at Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility, executives from every team overflowed among the courtside tables, the bleachers and in the quieter spaces outside the ropes where pleasant conversations would lay groundwork for summer deals. At the NBA Draft Combine it seemed there was only an occasional glance at the players sweating on the court to grab an eye, the focus more on taking a turn with Pelicans VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin to make a pitch for the services of disgruntled New Orleans star Anthony Davis.
But a player who was not in the gym and not even playing for the Warriors right now, Kevin Durant, was also on the lips of many of the executives in the gym.
Speaking with representatives from other teams, any discussion of the Knicks skipped right past the third pick that they hold in the upcoming NBA Draft or the progress of any of the young players currently on the roster and to what almost every one of the officials believed a fait accompli — that Durant is bound for New York.
While Durant (strained calf muscle) is watching from the sidelines right now as the Warriors continue to plow through the Western Conference playoffs, when the season is over he will become a free agent and it was hard to find anyone who didn’t think what Garden chairman James Dolan hinted at earlier this year — the stars are going to sign with the Knicks.
For now it is all speculation, but there were anonymous whispers asking if it was true that the Knicks and Durant had already held a secret meeting, that a handshake deal was already in place and that endorsement deals were already ironed out.
It wasn’t just talk about the Knicks securing the services of Durant, but that the elite scorer is bolting the Warriors despite all of the success. No one would put a name on their thoughts, but they did at least in their minds, figure out the hardest part of the Durant free agency question: why would he leave the Warriors?
Staying in Golden State seems like an easy decision in a vacuum. The Warriors have provided Durant with the setting to establish his legacy as a champion — winning titles with a deep roster of talented and unselfish players, a coach who is respected by almost every player and a front office and ownership group that is the envy of the NBA. Add in that the Warriors are moving into a beautiful new arena in San Francisco next year and the little note that Durant can get an extra year and about $60 million from the Warriors and it’s hard to imagine leaving.
But one front office executive said that Durant has been unhappy with the prodding from Steve Kerr and the feeling that he never can be — no matter how great he performs and how many individual honors he compiles — the centerpiece of a team that holds Steph Curry in the hearts of the franchise.
In New York, where no stars reside right now, Durant would certainly be the star attraction as well as the player who picks his teammates. Before the Knicks get to make their pitch — if the rival execs are wrong and it hasn’t already been made — there is the matter of the draft on June 20 and then weighing in the possibility of a trade for Davis if that would appease Durant.
“We want to build this team the right way,” Knicks president Steve Mills said Friday. “We’ve always said we’re going to continue to work hard during the draft process. We believe we’re a team that can draft well and this is all part of our plan and growing our team.
“We’re here to evaluate the players that are here and we’ll keep moving along in our process.”
If it seemed odd to see the Lakers install Frank Vogel as the head coach while insisting he take Jason Kidd along on his staff, according to one person at the Combine this week there could be something more in mind than just having a former head coach and maybe a coach in waiting behind Vogel.
It is just speculation right now, but one person asked me if I knew why Kidd was there and as I guessed at his relationship with LeBron James or his ability to tutor Lonzo Ball, the person familiar with the Lakers process said something else: that Kidd was brought to Los Angeles to attract Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in two years when the Bucks star could become an unrestricted free agent.
Antetokounmpo played for Kidd in Milwaukee for three and a half seasons beginning in his second season in the league. The notion of him leaving remains far off — and maybe less likely as he has the Bucks two wins away from the NBA Finals. The team had the best record in the NBA this season while playing in a brand new arena.
Many of the top players in the upcoming draft skipped the Combine. Zion Williamson left town the morning after Tuesday’s lottery. RJ Barrett followed him shortly after and Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter never arrived at all. Ja Morant went through interviews with teams and media but never went through even measurements.
But there were interesting numbers rising from the measurements. Tacko Fall, a 23-year-old center who played for the University of Central Florida, set a number of records including height with shoes (7 feet, 7 inches), standing reach (10 feet, 2.5 inches, wingspan (8 feet, 2.25 inches) and hand length (10.5 inches). He ran the floor well in scrimmages and in testing had a 26.5 inch vertical jump, reaching 12 feet and 5 inches, the highest point anyone has ever been measured at the Combine.
While the numbers — including size 22 shoes that has him without a pair of dress shoes in his closet — are interesting, he opened eyes with his play on the floor.
“I feel like they already knew about my game,” he said. “[They had] a few question marks. Can he keep up with the game? Can he run up and down the floor? Those are the things I improved on a lot, especially for somebody my size. I can change the game in a lot of ways and I just wanted to show it.”