The New York Knicks appear to be preparing to make a run at Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant when he becomes a free agent in 2016. The franchise announced on Wednesday the hire of assistant coach Brian Keefe -- a close associate of Durant’s from their time together in Oklahoma City.
Keefe spent the last seven seasons as a member of Oklahoma City’s staff, including two as a developmental coach and the last five as an assistant coach. Durant has great respect for Keefe, whom he credited with helping him improve his discipline last season, the New York Post’s Marc Berman reports. “He’s Durant’s guy,” an anonymous NBA source said.
Aside from his relationship with Durant, Keefe is also well acquainted with Knicks head coach Derek Fisher, who spent the last two years as a player in Oklahoma City. Durant publicly praised the Knicks’ decision to hire Fisher in June, and he reportedly helped convince Knicks star Carmelo Anthony to re-sign with the team and play under Fisher in July.
It’s possible that Knicks President Phil Jackson hired Fisher and Keefe to entice Durant to sign with New York when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Durant has repeatedly expressed his satisfaction with playing for the Thunder, but declined to definitively say that he would return to Oklahoma City when asked about his upcoming free agency last October.
“I’m not thinking far down the line at all. It’s about today,” he told the Oklahoman 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.”
Aside from the Thunder and several other suitors who will likely bid for Durant’s services, the biggest obstacle to the Knicks’ pursuit may be the salary cap. Amar’e Stoudamire’s max contract comes off the books next offseason, which would free up enough space to sign Durant to a similar deal -- so long as the Knicks don’t sign anyone else of similar value.
But a potential contract with the Knicks isn’t the only lucrative deal in Durant’s future. Earlier this week, the 25-year-old reportedly signed a new 10-year contract with Nike worth up to $300 million.