Kevin Durant is still under contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the New York Knicks’ decision to hire Derek Fisher as their new head coach may hint at the franchise’s plans for the star forward.
As a former president of the National Basketball Player’s Association, Fisher is well-respected among his peers. However, he developed a particularly close relationship with Durant, his teammate in Oklahoma City since 2011.
Durant was one of the first people to congratulate Fisher on his new position with the Knicks. “So happy for my brother [Derek Fisher], I can speak for the whole state of Oklahoma when I say we will miss u and we love u. Good luck coach,” he wrote on Twitter.
He also praised the Knicks' decision to hire Fisher in an interview with the New York Post on Tuesday. When asked if he believed Fisher had the makings of a good NBA coach, Durant said, “Without a doubt. He’s a smart guy, smart mind. He’s a great motivator, great speaker and can really relate to a lot of guys and demands that respect from everybody. He’s a great locker-room guy. I’m sure he’ll do a great job,” he said.
Both Fisher and Jackson cited their familiarity with each other as the primary force behind their decision to work together. Fisher played a crucial role on all five of Jackson’s NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he possesses an intimate knowledge of Jackson’s “Triangle Offense.” By hiring Fisher, Jackson gained a coach who can act as his proxy on the sideline.
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But Fisher’s relationship with Durant may have been a secondary factor, especially given the very real possibility that Carmelo Anthony, the presumptive centerpiece of Jackson’s rebuilding efforts, may choose to opt out of his contract as soon as this summer, leaving the “Zen Master” without an anchor on offense.
The Knicks have already made it clear that they’ll do whatever it takes to keep Anthony in New York, and they’re also expected to be active participants in the 2015 free-agent scrum, which will potentially feature franchise-altering talents such as LeBron James and Kevin Love. However, Fisher’s personal relationship with Durant provides a rare opportunity to make distinct inroads with a player who will, without question, have several aggressive suitors.
Durant doesn’t become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2016; his current contract doesn't include an opt-out clause, a rarity among the league’s biggest stars. Given Oklahoma City’s status as a perennial contender and his excellent supporting cast, including guard Russell Westbrook, it seems unlikely that Durant will leave the Thunder.
In an October 2013 interview with the Oklahoman newspaper, Durant reiterated his love for the Thunder, but turned cagey when pressed to speculate on how he’ll handle free agency. “I’m not thinking far down the line at all. It’s about today,” he said at the time. “I can’t tell the future. I can’t speak on that. […] I’m just going to keep playing for the Thunder. I love playing here.”
Durant may love playing in Oklahoma City right now, but Fisher may have this year’s MVP setting his sights on the Big Apple in 2016.