Why the NBA’s Biggest Stars Are Avoiding the Knicks

NBA agents and team executives told the Times that players have taken notice of the Knicks' dysfunction

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving signed with the Nets over the Knicks. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
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The allure of playing in the world’s most revered arena is no longer enough to draw NBA players to the Knicks. Not even close.

After two of the league’s biggest stars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, snubbed the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden and opted instead for the Brooklyn Nets, a very clear message was sent: the Knicks are broken.

“That’s the punch to the gut,” NBA analyst and former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy told The New York Times. “If you would have told me that two free-agent stars were going to choose New York and both would choose the Nets over the Knicks, I never would have believed it.”

But that’s the truth as the Knicks attempt to rebuild after a 17-win 2018-2019 season. Much of the blame falls onto the shoulders of the team’s “cantankerous” owner, James Dolan — the same guy who had a fan tossed from a game for yelling “sell the team,” the Times noted. It doesn’t help his case that Dolan has set lofty goals for the team in public that he then failed to live up to.

“I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we are going to have a very successful off-season when it comes to free agents,” he said on the radio this past March.

NBA agents and team executives told the Times that players have taken notice of the dysfunction that has shadowed the Knicks since the team’s last winning season, 2012-2013, and have made the conscious decision to avoid it. Players also noticed when Knicks fan-favorite Charles Oakley was forcibly removed from a game by Dolan’s order two years ago.

“You see the fire burning, you don’t drive into it,” Oakley told the Times. “It’s as simple as that. They know what’s going on. They have more awareness these days, and they can make up their minds on their own.”

A few days before announcing his decision to join the Nets, Durant posted a picture to his Instagram with Oakley, who’s beloved by the league’s current class of stars.

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