- The impending free agency of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving has been a major talking point in the NBA all season.
- Despite both players playing for great teams, there have been persistent rumors that they could leave, with the New York Knicks frequently mentioned as a possible destination.
- Rumors, reports, and more have left the NBA world with a trail of bread crumbs to follow and speculate on the futures of both stars.
The NBA regular season is in its stretch run, with the playoffs just around the corner, but two of the biggest stories in the league remain the futures of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Both are set to become free agents in what is shaping up to be a stacked free agent class in 2019.
Over the course of the season, rumors have continued to pile on over whether both stars would leave their respective teams in free agency, possibly to team up. The New York Knicks are frequently mentioned as a potential landing spot. Both players’ actions throughout the season have only added fuel to the fire.
Here’s why the free agency hype is building:
The futures of Durant and Irving have been a subject of interest dating back to last summer.
Durant and the Warriors were coming off a second straight title, but there were signs suggesting that all was not well within the group.
- Ezra Shaw/Getty
Since joining the Warriors, Durant has signed “1+1” contracts — one-year deals with a player option for a second year.
The deals do not give the Warriors a long-term commitment. They’ve helped set Durant up to make more money, but they’ve also kept his options open each summer.
After the 2017-18 season, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN’s Zach Lowe on a podcast that he had a one-on-one meeting with Durant during the season because he sensed Durant “drifting.” Lowe wrote separately that he believes the Warriors were somewhat nervous that Durant might leave. He, of course, did not.
Things turned awkward at the Warriors championship parade, when there were several jokes about Durant’s contract status, none of which seemed to amuse Durant.
First, GM Bob Myers joked that Stephen Curry could have any contract he wants because he had been there for the whole run. He said Durant could not.
Then, the event’s emcee, Bob Fiztgerald of NBC Sports, joked that he wanted to be near Durant “before his Warrior exit.” Durant shook his head on stage.
Murmurs about Durant’s future continued into the season. Before the season, ESPN’s NBA insider Zach Lowe predicted Durant would join the Knicks in free agency.
- Mike Stobe/Getty Images
The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson predicted that this would be Durant’s last season with the Warriors.
Source: The Athletic
There are some eyebrow-raising connections between Durant and the Knicks.
- Gregory Shamus/Getty
1. Durant’s agent, Rich Kleiman, is from New York. He once tweeted that he would one day like to run the Knicks.
2. The Knicks have cap space to sign Durant.
3. Knicks GM Scott Perry was in the Seattle SuperSonics’ front office when they drafted Durant. He and Durant were reportedly close.
4. Amid talk that the Warriors would never be Durant’s team, some wondered if he might want to pursue leading another team on his own. What better franchise than the downtrodden Knicks? For all of the negativity Durant received for joining the Warriors, leading the Knicks deep in the playoffs would make him one of the most popular athletes in the world.
Meanwhile, in Boston, amid speculation over his future, Irving told fans at a season-ticket-holders event that he planned to re-sign in Boston this summer.
- Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Separate reports indicated Irving and the Celtics’ front office had had the same discussion.
This seemed to quiet rumors about Irving joining the Knicks. Irving grew up in north New Jersey, not far from New York.
Things turned ugly for the Warriors on November 12, when Draymond Green and Kevin Durant got into an on-court spat that boiled over into the locker room.
- via Fox Sports West/NBA
The incident occurred when Durant chastised Green for not passing him the ball for a game-winning shot.
Green shot back at Durant, reportedly claiming Durant wasn’t part of the team’s future, so he should just leave. He reportedly told Durant the team didn’t need him.
Like lip-reading? Some believe that right after the argument, Durant was seen on the court saying, “This is why I’m out.”
The Warriors suspended Green for the incident. Fair or not, it was seen as a message that Durant was of utmost importance to the organization.
- Bob Levey/Getty
Things then went dormant for a bit afterward. Durant and the Warriors regrouped. Irving and the Celtics got off to a rocky start, but there was not much more than speculation about both players’ futures.
- Andy Lyons/Getty
Then, in late January, the New York Knicks made the move that created massive free agency buzz by trading Kristaps Porzingis.
- Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Knicks previously had nearly enough cap space for one superstar. By trading Porzingis, along with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, while not taking back any salary, the Knicks created enough cap space for two superstars.
Alarms rang throughout the league that the Knicks had a real shot at landing Durant and Irving in the offseason. Why trade the superstar you have in Porzingis just for the possibility of signing two superstars?
Various reports backed this up. The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that the threat of Durant leaving never felt more real to the Warriors.
“In my discussions with rival team executives, I’ve heard from many more who praise the trade – believing the Knicks must have some promising inside information about their ability to lure the likes of Durant and Irving – than from those questioning how much the Knicks received in return.
“I can also pass along that the threat of the Knicks’ persuading Durant to leave one of the most dominant teams in league history has never felt more real to the Warriors themselves.”
Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported that one league executive believed the Knicks already knew they were getting Durant.
“‘The only reason you can justify doing it,’ the same exec said of dumping Porzingis, ‘is you have some level of certainty in your own mind that you’re getting KD and Kyrie, or KD and whatever.’
“Others were more blunt. ‘It means they’re pretty sure they’re getting KD,’ said a rival exec who believes the Knicks have already been told Durant is coming.”
Sam Amick of The Athletic told Colin Cowherd that people in Durant’s camp have talked about him going to New York in “alarming” terms.
.@ColinCowherd: "I don't see [Kevin Durant] leaving Golden State. Do you?@sam_amick: "Right now, I do… His people have gone around the league and talked in pretty alarming terms about the New York possibility. That's why we're talking about it so much." pic.twitter.com/InYkFPoq9y
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) February 20, 2019
The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss wrote after the trade that people on the Warriors think Durant is leaving.
“Let us be frank, with the caveat that the choice lives inside the head of one guy who can and does change his mind: Insiders around the league think Kevin Durant is leaving the Warriors for the Knicks. Most people within the Warriors either think Durant is leaving or profess not to know one way or the other. His teammates recognize this reality, can handle it and merely want one outcome: Win a championship, absent too much drama. The main concern, at the moment, is whether he’ll commit in the short term to what he may have already left in the long term.”
Strauss also wrote that Durant wishes to be recognized as the best player in the NBA, something that may be difficult so long as the Warriors remain the most stacked team in the league.
Following the Porzingis trade, Durant didn’t speak to media for several days. When he finally did, he snapped, questioning the motives of the media and saying he had nothing to do with the Porzingis trade.
Meanwhile, in Boston, the Celtics’ struggles played an important part in the buzz about Irving’s future.
- Abbie Parr/Getty
What if the Celtics weren’t as good as expected? With Irving frequently critiquing the young players on the team and signs of real locker room strife, some wondered if this was going to be a long-term marriage after all.
Irving himself added fuel to the fire when he seemingly reneged on his preseason commitment to the Celtics.
On February 1, before a game against the Knicks, Irving was asked about re-signing with Boston and said he didn’t “owe anyone s—.” Irving said he would do what’s best for his family and told reporters to ask him his feelings on his future on July 1.
A recent report said that Irving has become “disengaged and detached” from the Celtics this season.
Source: The Ringer
The friendship between Durant and Irving, themselves has only added to the speculation. Over the All-Star Weekend, the two players were frequently seen hanging out together.
- Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Their gallivanting at All-Star Weekend included a light-hearted game of one-on-one…
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving playing 1-on-1… sort of ???? pic.twitter.com/rTlupoq8td
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 16, 2019
And Irving being the last remaining player on the floor for Durant’s All-Star MVP speech.
— kaye (@kayeisme) February 18, 2019
It also featured a fairly nondescript hallway conversation that nonetheless generated speculation.
Kyrie Irving has been caught on video saying, “two max slots, it’s time” to Kevin Durant ???? pic.twitter.com/BSdAytp1bY
— Basketball Forever (@Bballforeverfb) February 18, 2019
Some people thought Irving was talking about two max cap space slots – a reference to the Knicks.
Irving later criticized the media for the attention the video received.
On Tuesday, the Celtics visited Oakland to play the Warriors, thrashing them, 128-95. Afterward, The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami noted that Durant sought out Irving and had a long, friendly talk with him on the floor.
- Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News/Getty Images
Source: Tim Kawakami/Twitter
Durant has stoked the fire a few times this season with comments that suggested his unhappiness with the Warriors.
Kevin Durant asked about Kerr saying the team needed to play with more anger: “I thought we moved off joy. Now anger? I disagree with that one.” pic.twitter.com/M7o4nFDori
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 6, 2019
That continued Tuesday night when he was asked about Kerr’s assertion that the Warriors needed to play with more “anger.” Durant responded by noting that Kerr usually tells the Warriors to play with “joy.”
“I thought we moved off joy. Now anger? I disagree with that one,” Durant said.
In light of the incident, Chris Haynes of Yahoo reported that some members of the Warriors think Durant’s behavior could be a sign he already has “one foot out the door.”
This season, Durant and his agent, Rich Kleiman, also opened up an office for Durant’s off-court business, Thirty Five Ventures … in New York City.
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Regram @darrenrovell: SIGN OF THE TIMES: @easymoneysniper & his business partner @richkleiman launch the first ever site devoted solely to an athlete’s businesses. Includes updates on Durant’s 30+ investments, media projects & foundation work. Website for @35ventures is www.thirtyfiveventures.com
Ultimately, the playoffs could play a huge role in the futures of both players.
Some believe that Durant may only be comfortable leaving the Warriors if they win another championship. Just as he joined them because they lost in the 2016 Finals, he may leave them if they win three straight championships, believing he’s achieved everything he wanted with them.
Conversely, the Celtics’ playoff success could play a huge role in Irving’s decision. If the Celtics regroup and contend for a championship, he may re-sign in Boston, not wanting to leave a young, growing, talented team. But if the Celtics lose in the second round, that would be a disappointment and may cause him to go elsewhere.