The summer of 2010 was going to be the Knicks' summer.
After years -- make that decades -- of bloated payroll and anemic win totals, things were going to change. The change started in 2008 with the hiring of former Pacers exec Donnie Walsh, who made it his top priority to clear cap space, something the Knicks had never done in the era of free agency. He dealt Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph, the team's two top scorers, in the season's first month, with the focus firmly on the summer of 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amaré Stoudemire would all be free agents. The big-ticket guys always talked about how much they loved playing in Madison Square Garden -- now one, or even two, of them could make the World's Most Famous arena their home for max money.
Well, we all know what happened next.
The Knicks came to an agreement with Stoudemire -- a five-year, $100 million uninsurable deal -- and hoped to add a second superstar. Three days later, on July 8, James aired "The Decision," when he told the world that he was taking his talents to South Beach. The day before LeBron's decision, it came out that Bosh was also joining the Miami Heat. And obviously Wade wasn't going anywhere either. Instead of signing LeBron, the Knicks packaged much of their young talent and a few draft picks the following season in a deal with the Denver Nuggets for free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony and former All-Star Chauncey Billups (agreed to exactly eight years ago from today). Walsh resigned that summer.
As the Knicks tank toward the summer of 2019 (Zion!), they find themselves in a familiar position. LeBron won't be a free agent this summer, but Kevin Durant will be, and the rumor mill has both he and Kyrie Irving -- who grew up in nearby New Jersey -- signing with the Knicks. While this is certainly a tantalizing proposition -- despite the fact that they traded away their one player a marquee free agent would most like to play with -- the Knicks moreso than any team should know not to count their free agents before they sign.
What the Knicks have to offer outside of max money are the same things they've always had to offer -- the incomparable home of Madison Square Garden, and the promise that bringing a championship to New York would be the ultimate basketball achievement. The first is true. The second, considering James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first-ever title and Steph Curry led the Golden State Warriors to their first in 40 years (plus two more), is debatable. And over the years, few players have signed on. After Stoudemire, the biggest Knicks free agent names have probably been Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah. Durant was previously a free agent in 2016 and the Knicks were interested -- and had the money to do it -- but the interest wasn't reciprocated. He didn't even meet with the Knicks. Instead, he signed with the Warriors.
Maybe things will be different this summer. Durant went to Golden State to win championships and has done just that, with two rings and two Finals MVPs to show for it. Now that he's checked that off, maybe he wants to try and accomplish something else -- like leading one of the NBA's original 11 teams to their first title since 1973. Get max money, be a team's undisputed No. 1 guy, play in the Garden, take the Knicks to the playoffs. What could go wrong?
Well, a lot.
For starters, Durant hasn't exactly been the best at handling criticism, and if there's anything New York does better than any other basketball city, it's criticize. Win a title and you're royalty -- Clyde Frazier is walking, talking, plaid proof of that. But what if you fail? Durant could ask that of, well, any star who's played for the Knicks in the past 45 years, from Patrick Ewing (unceremoniously traded for spare parts after being relentlessly booed by his home fans) to Anthony (unceremoniously traded for Enes Kanter and spare parts after being relentlessly booed by his home fans). New York tends to eat their own, which frankly sounds like Durant's worst nightmare. He's taken offense at the words of Twitter randos, how would he ever be able to handle Desus & Mero?
Then there's the little matter of team building, which has mostly been an unmitigated disaster since Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby led the Ewing-less squad to the '99 Finals. Houston then signed a six-year, $100 million extension in 2001, was a decent player for the first two years of it, and a cap-destroying anchor for the rest. Many, many other disasters followed -- from Eddy Curry and Jerome James to Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis (at the same damn time). And the one time they seemed to be assembling a decent young core around a star in Stoudemire, they traded most of it for Anthony, who wanted to sign with the Knicks as a free agent anyway. Every time they seem to know what they're doing, they throw it all away.
Does that sound familiar? This year, at the deadline, they traded Kristaps Porzingis, their 7-foot-3 unicorn, along with Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, to the Dallas Mavericks for Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Wes Matthews and a pair of first-round picks. It opened up the cap space to sign a second superstar, yes, but at the cost of the best player they'd drafted since, well, Ewing. Porzingis gets to pair with rookie sensation Luka Doncic in Dallas, while the Knicks dream of Durant and Irving and Zion. It's worth remembering that if Irving wants to play on a team close to home with championship aspirations and a terrific young core, he can just re-sign with the Celtics.
For Knicks fans, enduring yet another lottery season, what they have to cling to now is the thought that the best is yet to come. If recent history is any indication, "next year" might always remain another year away.