Billboard courts potential free agent Kevin Durant to Knicks

Free agency is more than eight months away, but the public courting of Kevin Durant has already started.

With Durant and the Golden State Warriors in New York to play the Knicks on Friday, a marketing company has put up a billboard near Madison Square Garden recruiting Durant to New York.

The billboard features Durant in a road Knicks jersey next to Kristaps Porzingis with the question, "Can you make NY sports great again?" tagged with Durant's Instagram handle: @easymoneysniper.

Durant is holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy, something the Knicks last won in 1973. The billboard also features the hashtag #KDNY2019.

Durant was tepid in his reaction to the billboard when asked about it Thursday.

"It's the time the NBA is in," he said. "We look forward to free agency as fans, and your guys' job is to kind of look towards the future a little bit. And the fans love it. So I understand.

"To be honest, I don't know how I feel about that type of stuff. It's cool. No disrespect, but I'm not really impressed with that type of stuff. I just really like playing basketball. ... I know all of that stuff is a part of it, but for me I don't really get up for that stuff."

That probably wasn't the response Benjamin Pokh, president of the marketing company, was hoping for.

"My business partner and I are lifelong Knick fans, and we are tired of all the losing, so we decided to do our part in helping our team recruit the best players the NBA has to offer, because that's what New York sports deserves," Pokh said.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr drew chuckles from the assembled media while trying to downplay the significance of the billboard.

"[Warriors PR director] Raymond [Ridder] told me that was Clarence Weatherspoon," Kerr said after Thursday's practice. "Knicks No. 35, Raymond said that was somebody named Clarence Weatherspoon. So I didn't know it was Kevin."

Several opposing executives have said in recent weeks that they wouldn't be surprised if Durant left Golden State. Durant himself discussed the possibility of leaving the Warriors with associates in the offseason, according to league sources familiar with the matter. That isn't a clear indication that he will leave Golden State this summer. It was a conversation that took place more than eight months before his free agency -- plenty can happen between now and July 2019.

Durant said he thinks "nothing" when he hears rumors linking him to New York but that he understands the attention and speculation that come with being a star player.

"Just gotta be a great basketball player every single day. The best basketball player I can be every single day. That's all I really try to lock in on," he said.

The Knicks expect to have enough cap space this summer to pay a max free agent such as Durant. They are one of many clubs that will have strong interest in the former MVP if he opts out of the final year of his contract and tests free agency, as expected.

To open up cap space, the Knicks recently waived Joakim Noah and stretched the final season of his contract, and decided against extending Porzingis' rookie contract prior to the deadline earlier this month.

New York currently projects to have $31 million in cap room next summer. That number does not factor in the salary owed to its 2019 first-round pick or the free-agent hold of Enes Kanter, who is in the final year of his contract.

The projected max contract for Durant, a player with 10-plus years of service, is $38.15 million.

So the Knicks would need to complete at least one more transaction that reduces their 2019-20 salary commitments to be able to sign Durant to a max contract.

Durant did have high praise for Madison Square Garden.

"It's like a playground with walls," he said. "You walk outside and you're right on the street. It feels like you're playing at Rucker Park, just indoors. And that energy, I remember my first game as a rookie. I can remember I played pretty well, I had 30 that night. My family came up and we stayed after the game so we celebrated a little bit. But that energy -- it's just pure, pure love for the game at the Garden."

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