The past two Junes, Kevin Durant won a title and was named Finals MVP. He made it look easy, but he's flying in restricted airspace, with only Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James pulling off the feat. Despite joining the ranks of those true all-time greats, though, Durant is still an NBA pariah to many.

The reasons are manifold. Not only did he join a 73-win Warriors team two summers ago, but a few weeks after capturing his second Finals MVP, Durant went after a teenager on social media for their uninformed criticism (the bright side was Quire Sultan wasn’t involved this time, and those teenager’s takes were pretty silly). Not only that, but the usually charismatic and cautious Warriors general manager Bob Myers uncharacteristically put his foot in his mouth when he picked at the scab that is Durant’s tenure in Golden State by clowning on KD during thee victory parade.

Despite the ill-timed jokes, and LeBron’s alleged midnight text message to join him on the purple and gold, KD still re-signed with Golden State. However, it was a LeBron-esque 1-and-1 contract that means Durant can opt out again next summer. While he may well retire at 35, that still leaves him a half decade to Lazarus his legacy. The real question is how will he?

Looking ahead to next summer, the Knicks—believe it or not—are the best bet for Kevin Durant to go down as one of the all-time greats, instead of the current perception as a great player who took the easy road to glory.

There’s no way Durant can further burnish his credentials in Golden State. Stephen Curry looms too large as the franchise cornerstone, even if—or, as some worrywarts surmise, when—KD wins a third consecutive Finals MVP in 2019. This isn’t just speculation. Talk to any diehard Warriors fan (i.e. someone around before Steph went supernova and Steve Kerr replaced Mark Jackson) and they’ll inevitably bemoan the plucky persona of the 2015 title winners, or even the 73-win iteration the next season whose humiliation in the Finals paved the way for Durant’s signing. No matter how many tech companies KD invests in, or Warriors wins he racks up, he’ll never shake the vestige of the championship-level team in place before he joined.

Similarly, there’s no way anyone gives him credit if he teams up with LeBron on the Lakers next summer. Yes, it’s tempting to imagine the NBA’s two best overall players together on a marquee franchise, if only to see a new level of fulsome fandom from Lakers sycophants. But Durant knows it’s similar to what’s happening with him in Golden State. If he wins a title with LeBron, he’s still second fiddle.

Perhaps a return to Oklahoma City is the fitting next chapter for Durant, considering the parallels with LeBron’s return to Cleveland. Except, it’s mathematically impossible if KD wants to earn the max deal he deserves. The Thunder re-signed Paul George to the max to play alongside Russell Westbrook’s snarling impresario, and they’re basically giving Carmelo Anthony away to avoid the nearly $100 million in luxury taxes his contract creates under the current CBA. Plus, the personal vitriol Durant heard from Thunder fans after his Warriors announcement likely still stings, especially in light of what’s happened between Isaiah Thomas and Boston, and DeMar DeRozan with Toronto. The players' oft-repeated mantra, “It’s a business,” has never felt more apt.

That leaves the Knicks. Yes, they’re the Knicks and again found themselves in the lottery of this past June's NBA Draft, so the idea of them somehow landing the second-best player in the world should be met with justifiable skepticism. However, as was pointed out by Zach Lowe at ESPN, New York is going to have a real shot at landing Durant next summer, and perhaps even another star to help him.

Kevin Durant after the NBA Finals
Image via Getty/Jason Miller

KD’s business partner, Rich Kleiman, is from New York and was even mentioned as working behind the scenes to get Mark Jackson hired as the Knicks' new coach this summer. Even more kismet for the Knicks: GM Scott Perry was an executive with the Seattle SuperSonics (RIP) when they drafted KD No. 2 overall and remains close with him. On top of that, Kyrie Irving is rumored to be in the mix for the Knicks next summer. Boston has a glut of young talent, and they might let Kyrie walk in free agency if they don’t want to pick up the tab of a new deal. Plus, there’s mutual respect between the two stars: Durant lavished praise on Kyrie’s game during his appearance on Bill Simmons’ podcast earlier this year, and Kyrie has publicly noted he thinks Durant is Golden State’s best player.

If Kevin Durant were to join the Knicks next summer alongside Kyrie Irving, and they—along with Kristaps Porzingis—were to eventually capture New York’s first title since 1973, Knicks fans might commission a statue of the Slim Reaper outside Madison Square Garden that same summer. He’d immediately become a New York icon, especially if James Dolan has sold the team by then. It’ll also wipe away all the bad blood he engendered by joining such a dominant team in the Bay Area.

Looking ahead to next summer, the Knicks—believe it or not—are the best bet for Kevin Durant to go down as one of the all-time greats, instead of the current perception as a great player who took the easy road to glory.