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Is LeBron’s move to the Lakers a test case for Durant’s free-agent decision next year?

If Durant wins a third ring at Golden State, he might be ready to make the Knicks a contender

Will the early struggles of LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, now 2-3, influence the offseason’s biggest decision?

The NBA season just started, yet much of the league has kept one eye focused on next summer’s biggest free-agent mystery: Will Kevin Durant stay with the Warriors or bolt to the New York Knicks? Much of the reporting has left the league’s intelligentsia floundering to formulate an answer because, as Marcus Thompson of The Athletic noted, Durant remains mysterious:

Here’s the hard part with KD: We don’t know what he wants. I don’t know that he knows what he wants. But I know the Warriors don’t know fully what he wants. Is it a championship, supremacy, is it to be the ace?”

Benjamin Pokh, president of NYCADSCO who put up the billboard in Manhattan, said: “My business partner and I are life-long Knick fans, and we are tired of all the losing so we decided to do our part to in helping our team recruit the best players the NBA has to offer, because that’s what New York sports deserves.”

On FS1, Yahoo! Sports’ Chris Haynes delivered the most interesting speculation:

“The New York Knicks have a very good shot at luring KD away from the Bay Area. The reason I say that is his business partner, Rich Kleiman, is based in New York, huge New York Knicks fan. Their business is located and based in New York. KD’s dad is a big New York Knicks fan. The same allure that LeBron had toward the Los Angeles Lakers — just the building, the culture — is the same thing, the same way, I know, that KD feels about the Knicks.”

Those who consider James a conspiring mastermind might believe a tiny piece of him chose the Lakers to nudge Durant to match him. Beguiling Durant to leave the Warriors is perhaps the only way for him to realistically compete for a championship amid the dominance in the Bay. Since Durant’s move to Golden State checkmated James, James may have wanted to start a different game by moving to L.A. to get Durant to counter him. By opting for the purple and gold, James set himself up to become the hero for a signature franchise in the league’s second-most populous city. Durant can only top that by becoming the “legend” who “revives” the Knicks.

If Durant is at least partly interested in the idea of making a splash in Madison Square Garden, then how James’ season unfolds takes on extra significance. To Durant, the 2018-19 Lakers will operate as a test case, allowing him to gauge, from afar, how such a move might fare for him. With the Lakers at least another star away from NBA relevancy despite having the league’s best player, a move to a signature but uncompetitive franchise appears unlikely to engender happiness for any star, including the enigmatic Durant.

As Thompson stated, we do not know what Durant wants. But we do know what he doesn’t want: to struggle against good teams, to depend on young players to reach their potential for the team to thrive, to struggle to even make the playoffs. James’ move to L.A. shows that the flashing lights of the big city can also illuminate basketball misery.

When Durant makes his decision, he will do so from a much different position from James’. With the Warriors poised to three-peat, Durant will have to choose to walk away from a possible fourth ring and the chance to win four titles in a row, a feat only Bill Russell’s 1960s Boston Celtics accomplished. James left a Cleveland squad that had no chance of constructing a roster that could compete for a championship. He didn’t give up much to move to Hollywood. Durant will likely be giving up a ring.

If the Lakers continue to struggle, Durant’s decision on where to play next year might be made for him.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at The Undefeated and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.