NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, January 25, 2016, 5:33 PM
However innocuous and innocent, the line of communication was open between the Knicks and top free agent Kevin Durant. The topic was familiar to the discussion around New York these days: Kristaps Porzingis.
“When they made the pick I texted [Knicks coach Derek Fisher] and immediately said, ‘I like this kid, he can play,'” Durant told reporters Monday. “A lot of people were down on him, but he can play.”
Durant went on to compare Porzingis to a mystical and beautiful creature.
“He’s a skilled player. He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend. He’s a 7-footer who can step out to the 3-point line and hit shots. And block shots. That’s rare. That’s like a unicorn.”
Barring an NBA Finals miracle, Durant will make his final appearance at the Garden on Tuesday versus the Knicks before becoming the biggest free agent not named LeBron James. Fisher’s friendship with Durant – which stems from their season as teammates with OKC – will figure to play some role, though probably nothing major, as New York will command enough cap space to land the transformational star.
The Knicks are more enticing to stars than last offseason because of their white unicorn and the vast improvement from the 65-loss disaster of 2014-15. But they can’t offer as much money as the Thunder or the prospect of playing with Russell Westbrook. They also aren’t a natural fit for a long dynamic scorer because they already have two players who fit that description: Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony.
What the Knicks can offer is the spotlight of New York, “the Mecca of basketball,” as Durant described this week, which is something he doesn’t need for endorsements (he has plenty of those) but perhaps craves nonetheless. Durant hinted recently at his annoyance for the lack of attention to the Thunder (33-13), something he expanded on to reporters Monday.
“We are in Oklahoma City, we don’t have a lot of guys coming to cover us,” he said of playing in the NBA’s smallest market. “But we have been quietly doing our thing and just working and winning games.”
Durant wouldn’t have that problem with the Knicks. Anthony, surrounded Monday by reporters and video cameras following Monday’s practice, explained why his USA basketball teammate hasn’t had to address his free agency so often.
“The good thing is he’s out in Oklahoma City where he don’t have to worry about all of this, 15, 20 guys and girls, media people at practice,” Anthony said. “They only have got to worry about a couple of people. But I don’t think he’s dealing with that at this point.”
The other question is whether Durant can handle the pressure of a big market. In the last few years the 27-year-old has exposed himself as thin-skinned, targeting the media for perceived slights that would be status quo in New York.
In OKC, the local paper had to issue an apology to Durant for running a headline, “Mr. Unreliable,” because of his poor play in a playoff series. During All-Star week in New York last year, Durant said of the media, “You guys really don’t know s**t. …I’m only here talking because I have to. Y’all are not my friends.”
Just last week, Durant made an off-base comment about the media’s hatred for the Thunder, a point he juxtaposed with the attention given to Golden State and San Antonio.
If he’s having these problems in the smallest market in the NBA, how would he handle the daily backpages? Anthony, no stranger to criticism, understands it requires a certain personality.
“I think it comes down to who you are as a person, whether you can handle that or not,” he said. “Some people can handle it and some people don’t. Some people don’t know how to handle it.”
One person who has handled the attention exquisitely is Porzingis, the unicorn, who apparently had Durant’s attention even before he was drafted by the Knicks.
“He’s a skilled guy,” Durant said. “I think we’ve gone away from enjoying the skilled players in this league. We got so many guys who are athletic and big and strong, but he’s a skilled player.”