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SportsColumnistsSteve Popper

Knicks' rebuild had a good week, at least on paper

The Pelicans' Anthony Davis, right, is hugged by

The Pelicans' Anthony Davis, right, is hugged by the Warriors' Kevin Durant at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals on May 8, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. Credit: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez

DETROIT — It was a good week for the Knicks. Not on the court, of course, where they have continued to chase the record for the worst season in franchise history. But if you are keeping score in the realm that the Knicks are counting on — the future of their rebuild — they went 3-0 recently.

First, Anthony Davis announced that he wanted out of New Orleans and placed the Knicks on a short list of teams he would consider signing with long-term. Then he was not dealt before the trade deadline, leaving the opening for the Knicks to chase him this summer. Then Kyrie Irving arrived at Madison Square Garden the day after Kristaps Porzingis was dealt away, creating the massive cap space that could be utilized to sign an elite free agent, such as Irving, and walked back his preseason promises to remain in Boston for years to come.

And finally, Kevin Durant spoke. After eight days of silence, he finally sat down on a stage and, well, ranted. But the part that was most interesting to the Knicks was his declaration, “I have nothing to do with the Knicks. I don’t know who traded [Kristaps] Porzingis. That's got nothing to do with me. I’m trying to play basketball.” That sounded a lot like a child announcing he didn’t break the lamp, which the parents hadn’t accused him of breaking.

So all of the prime targets for the Knicks' summer chase whether by trade, in the case of Davis, or free agency, where Durant and Irving are among the headlining names on the market and still teasing the Knicks.

Now, they didn’t exactly show the form that will someday be held up as a how-to case study in public relations classes. Davis drew a $50,000 fine from the NBA for his agent telling ESPN that he wanted to be traded. Irving caused a bit of whiplash in Boston for fans and executives who listened to his speech in October declaring how he was signing on forever and ever. And Durant, well, that’s a tricky one.

Before we get to what’s next, let’s pause for a disclaimer. The Knicks cleared $70-million plus in cap space to chase free agents or as they call it, financial flexibility, but let’s just say they are attracting those buyers for a team that on the used car lot of basketball looks a lot more like a Ford Pinto than a Tesla. For the Knicks to trade for Davis, dangling their 2019 lottery pick as bait, will have to perform salary-cap gymnastics to make it work now that they have dumped every large contract. And there is the caveat that if they give up the first-round pick and assorted young pieces to trade for Davis, that means taking in his contract and having just Davis and one max-salary free agent rather than getting the pick and two free agents.

Back to Durant. Is he going to leave the best team in basketball? Will he leave a five-year, $221-million supermax deal that only the Warriors can offer and head to a new team for a max of four years and $164 million? And would he do it with the Knicks, where he can pair with another max free agent and … well, not a lot else.

The Knicks are in the game, which is a lot better than what can be said about most nights on the court and that’s something for a franchise that hasn’t had a lot of wins on or off for years.

Speaking of speaking

Durant didn’t speak for eight days and then when he did, he was petulant, blaming the media for his silence, insisting that he just wants to play basketball and not think about free agency. Fair enough, except for the fact that he is the one who signed on for one year, creating the speculation that the Golden State media has actually asked him very rarely about, but that his teammate Draymond Green aired out very publicly earlier this season.

So if you don’t want to talk contracts, that’s OK. Just say so. “I’m not thinking about the future. I’ll consider that in July. But I love my team and love my teammates,” would do nicely.

Instead, Durant hit the media as a whole and one in particular, telling them to grow up.

“Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it,” Durant said. “Let us play basketball. That’s all I’m saying. Now when I don’t want to talk to y’all, it’s a problem with me. C’mon man. Grow up. Grow up.”

Not to go all media avenger here, but a lot of players have handled tougher situations and tougher questions a lot more deftly. And that has raised the question of how he would handle New York, not because the media is rougher or better than the media covering the Warriors, but just simply because — as Carmelo Anthony could tell him — there are no days off from the media grind for the stars here.

Case closed

Speaking of handling New York, no one enjoyed playing in the city more than Enes Kanter, who saw his tenure come to an end Thursday when he was waived after the Knicks were unable to find a trade partner. He was joyful most days, but had become a thorn in the side of the team when he understandably didn’t take his benching sitting down. He kissed the Knicks logo on the Madison Square Garden floor the last time he got in a game and clapped along with fans chanting for him to get in the game.

“Obviously, we never want any of our stuff aired out in public,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Never. That’s just something that we’re really trying to build into our culture that we can go deal with the stuff internally.

“But he was really frustrated. And I understand that. I always said that. I had empathy for his situation. Unfortunately, this is where we are, and this is where we were. I really enjoyed having Enes. I enjoyed him in the gym. He was a good teammate with these guys. He was fun to be around. You never want to see a guy go through that. I’m just hoping that he can land with a playoff team and get his feet wet into some winning.”

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