The smoke behind Kevin Durant’s early exit rumors

The NBA season is still a few days away from officially beginning. But because this is a league that draws just as many headlines from player movement as it does from actual games, the conversation has naturally jumped ahead to 2019. The league is likely to see one of the most loaded free-agent classes in recent memory next offseason; Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and several other stars have expiring contracts.

Another potential name on that list is Kevin Durant. Durant has a $31.5 million player option for the 2019-20 season, and if he chooses not to return to the Warriors next season, he would instantly become the biggest name on the list.

And while everything to this point is pure speculation, the early rumblings suggest this could be Durant’s last year in the Bay Area.

The rumors started in July, when ESPN’s Zach Lowe listed several viable reasons Durant may consider the New York Knicks as his next home. Durant’s business manager, Rich Kleiman, is from the Big Apple. The Knicks’ GM, Scott Perry, was an executive with the Seattle Supersonics when they drafted Durant in 2007. The two remain close.

Last week, NBA insider Chris B. Haynes went on FS1’s “Undisputed” and continued to fan the flames of Knicks rumors.

“The New York Knicks have a very good shot at luring KD away from the Bay Area,” Haynes said. “The same allure that LeBron had towards the Los Angeles Lakers, just the building, the culture, is the same way I know that KD feels about the Knicks.”

Haynes also reiterated the points about Kleiman being from New York, and pointed out that Durant’s father is also a Knicks fan.

OK, so a lot of smoke, but not a ton of fire. Then, at Warriors Media Day, Durant was asked whether he would re-sign. His answer was about as noncommittal as one can get.

“You kind of just want to take it year by year, and I think to keep my options open, it was the best thing for me,” Durant told reporters. “I could have easily signed a long-term deal … but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me.”

On Tuesday, Marcus Thompson — who has covered the Warriors for more than a decade — penned a piece in The Athletic saying that his “guess” is that Durant will be gone after the season. Thompson believes the “vibe” in the Warriors’ building is that they are expecting a 2019 exit.

“The same franchise that was willing to dump everything to get him is now unofficially bracing for his departure,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson also noted that he believes Durant doesn’t even know what he will do at this point. The 2018-19 season could change everything, depending on whether the Warriors cruise to a third-straight title, like many expect.

Durant is rumored to have a somewhat fickle personality. While his teammate Stephen Curry is seen as the face of the Warriors and a Golden State lifer, Durant has already changed teams once. As Lowe wrote, “People who have spent years around Durant can’t say for sure what he wants from the game. It’s unclear if he knows.

“Some of those people predict, if you force them, that he will one day leave Golden State for a team that can be truly his.”

Whether that team is the Knicks, or another team entirely, remains to be seen.