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Barber: Every NBA rumor circles back to Kevin Durant

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OAKLAND — Remember this fact until deep into the summer. If you find yourself forgetting it for a moment, hit yourself in the forehead with the business end of a shoe as a subtle reminder. Here’s the fact: It’s all about Kevin Durant.

What is? Everything. Cryptic wall graffiti, the tides, the chiming of the grandfather clock, sudden movements by cats and babies, a song you haven’t heard in years until it plays twice on the radio in a two-hour span. All of them portend meaningful things about Durant, the third-year Golden State Warrior, and the decisions he will reach this summer.

When the 2018-19 NBA season began, Durant’s impending free agency was the big story. And it wasn’t even really impending yet. It was months away. But that’s what NBA coverage has become — five minutes on that night’s game and 25 minutes on what LeBron said to Kawhi, and what it might have to do with Kyrie. After Durant and Draymond Green got into an on-court spat in Los Angeles on Nov. 12 (and the Warriors quickly went into a tailspin), Durant’s feels were all we could talk about. As it should be.

But we get distracted — by Stephen Curry’s groin and Draymond Green’s toe, by losing streaks that turn into long winning streaks, by the heroic appearance of DeMarcus Cousins.

Be better than that! This is the Winter of Durant, if only because it precedes the inevitable Summer of Durant.

The jolt of a reminder came Thursday. The Warriors had returned home from a brilliant five-game road trip to play the young, talented Philadelphia 76ers at Oracle Arena. That should have carried enough intrigue to get us through the night.

But a few hours before tipoff, the New York Knicks confirmed that they were trading prized big man Kristaps Porzingis and some other players to the Dallas Mavericks for a bunch of different players and a pair of first-round draft choices. This swap raised several pressing questions. Why would the Knicks trade Porzingis, a singular talent? Was this more evidence of that organization’s incompetence? Could it make the Mavericks deep playoff contenders next year, when Porzingis returns from a torn ACL?

Instead, here was the headline on a story than ran on the Sports Illustrated blog the Crossover on Thursday afternoon: “The Kristaps Porzingis Trade Is All About Kevin Durant for the Knicks.”

See what I’m saying?

You THOUGHT the trade was about a very tall Latvian and a very dysfunctional team. But no, not in the Year of Durant.

Before the 76ers beat the Warriors, someone had asked Steve Kerr about the NBA’s latest blockbuster deal. “I never really like to talk about other teams’ personnel moves, that’s their own business,” Kerr said.

For his part, Durant seemed strangely detached during the Warriors’ 113-104 loss Thursday night. He scored 25 points, more or less his birthright, but made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts. I had left the home locker room by the time Durant showed up, but Marcus Thompson of the Athletic wrote that the All-Star “left the locker room without talking and visibly unhappy.”

Durant and Kerr knew the questions that were coming. Because everything that happens within the Warriors’ walls, and far beyond, now relates back to Durant and his decision. That includes a transaction between teams located 3,000 miles and 1,700 miles, respectively, from Oakland.

The Durant-to-New York rumors did not abate Friday, either. If anything, they reverberated as another party was drawn into the scenario. Now Durant was specifically being paired with Kyrie Irving, the dynamic point guard currently with Boston. The Celtics must have felt pretty secure in Irving’s commitment — until Friday morning, when he conducted a rambling and (if you’re Boston) unsettling press conference.

“I spent the last eight years trying to do what everybody else wanted me to do in terms of making my decisions and trying to validate through the media, through other personnel, managers, anybody in this business,” Irving said. “And I don’t owe anybody (bleep).”

OK then!

There is still the question of why Durant would leave the Warriors for a mess like the Knicks. It’s true that they play in New York, one of the epicenters of basketball, and that the Porzingis trade promises to free up $74.6 million in spending money this summer. That would be enough to sign Durant and another superstar like Irving. It’s also true that the Knicks have seven first-round draft picks over the next five years.

In essence, Durant could help to handpick his team in New York. He could be both a fantasy basketball owner and a star player. Not bad. Oh, and Durant has Knicks connections, too. General manager Scott Perry was assistant GM for the Seattle SuperSonics when they drafted Durant in 2007, and current Knicks assistant coach Royal Ivey played with him for three seasons in Oklahoma City.

Still, are those reasons enough to compel Durant to sign on? A lot of NBA teams could clear huge amounts of cap space. Like most of them, the Knicks would still have to do just about everything right to build something that could come close to approximating the Warriors. The ability to draft Duke star Zion Williamson is supposedly part of the attraction, but even if the Knicks finish with the worst record in the NBA, they will have just a 14 percent chance of drawing the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery.

So no, none of it is enough, really, to lure Durant from the NBA’s current gold-standard franchise to one that has no real standards at all. Unless …

Unless Durant has already given the Knicks verbal assurance that he is coming their way.

That’s what several anonymous NBA executives were saying to several NBA writers Friday. It’s a theory that gained credence when Durant played like he was distracted against the 76ers and opted not to speak to the media afterward.

I have thought all along, and still do, that it makes no sense for Durant to decide on his next move in November, or January or April.

Most likely he will see how the rest of 2018-19 plays out — see how well the Warriors get along for the rest of the season; see whether he is holding the NBA Finals MVP trophy again in June; see where other star players’ heads are as the dust settles in the offseason.

It’s a logical approach, but it’s boring. You know what’s a lot more exciting? Predicting Durant’s next move after each new mini-development. And that’s probably what we’ll be doing as we set a course for the Summer of Durant. It’s more than four months and several hundred rumors away.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-529-5218 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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