Kevin Durant witnesses a few 'unicorn' sightings at the Garden

NEW YORK –- As Aaron Afflalo launched a turnaround fadeaway, Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka went in to grab the rebound.

That's when the unicorn appeared out of nowhere.

Kristaps Porzingis soared in, got his extended right hand on the ball well above the rim and threw down his latest thunderous putback dunk over both Ibaka and Adams.

The Garden erupted. The "unicorn" -- as Kevin Durant dubbed him -- once again showed his rare talents at the raw age of 20. With Carmelo Anthony on the bench injured, Porzingis (15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks) tried his best Tuesday to take on Durant and Russell Westbrook before the New York Knicks succumbed in overtime, 128-122.

But this January loss to the Thunder might've provided the Knicks with something much more beneficial than a win would have over one of the NBA's most talented teams.

Durant had to come up with a brilliant 44 points and 14 rebounds to put away a Melo-less Knicks team -- a credit to their coach (and Durant's former teammate) Derek Fisher. And Durant saw enough unicorn up close to know that the Knicks have something and that their future is capable of growing like their 7-foot-3 prodigy.

It wasn't long ago we all thought that Phil Jackson and his treasure chest of championship rings, Carmelo and the lure of playing at the Garden and in New York City were all that the Knicks could pitch to free agents, and that it still wouldn't be enough to land an elite superstar.

But now, Jackson has perhaps his greatest recruiting tool in Porzingis. He's the type of untapped potential superstar that every team desires.

Just look at the state of the two franchises in New York. Porzingis is everything the Nets need and want -- a young talented lottery pick who can stir a packed arena into a frenzy and has become an instant fan favorite (see Porzingis' jersey sales, which trailed only Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in popularity recently).

During the summer of 2014, Durant, Anthony and Kevin Love worked out for about three weeks in a Los Angeles gym. In between honing their games, Love said the trio discussed what it would be like to all play together, if not on the same team, then on the Olympic team.

This summer, Durant might ponder what he'd look like with Anthony and Porzingis while playing for a coach with whom he already has a relationship. How would Durant, Anthony and Porzingis play alongside one another? Let that be a good problem for the Knicks to figure out if they are so fortunate.

Listen, it's going to take a lot for the Knicks to lure Durant. He already plays alongside a superstar in Westbrook, who at the moment is better than both Anthony and Porzingis, and who once again Tuesday flirted with a triple-double, amassing 30 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds while throwing down his own arena-shaking dunks.

Sure, Durant loves playing in the Garden and in New York, but so does every other NBA star who became a free agent and ultimately passed on becoming a Knick.

How about the small market-big market argument? Well, Durant has said that today's technology-driven world has made it possible to be a big star all over the world from anywhere. And what about returning to the East Coast? Well, Durant can always return home and play for the Wizards in Washington, near where he grew up.

Durant's agency, Roc Nation Sports, led by Jay Z, will certainly look at the merits of having its star basketball client play in New York. Last year during All-Star weekend here, Durant and Roc Nation Sports held an outdoor concert with Kanye West in the middle of the Flatiron District. Despite the bone-chilling cold on that February night, Durant enjoyed that experience, which started with a concert-opening hype video featuring Durant among other Roc Nation celebrity clients such as Rihanna.

What it usually comes down to for elite free agents is this: How much money can they make, and what kind of talent will they be able to play with, now and in the long term?

Oklahoma City can offer its franchise player a five-year deal beginning at $25 million per season, with annual raises as high as 7.5 percent. All other teams can offer Durant a four-year contract worth $25 million in the first year and with annual bumps as high as 4.5 percent.

The Thunder have Westbrook, Ibaka, Cameron Payne and Enes Kanter, among others. But as LeBron James showed, a star and a team can make things happen in free agency when a player wants to be there and a plan is in place to add talent around him.

Jackson's tenure as Knicks savior might have had a rocky start, but the Zen Master has since shown that his plan is heading in the right direction. His protégé, Fisher, is showing what he can do as a coach in his second year.

And with his first lottery pick, Jackson could have messed up big time. But he took Porzingis. Even knowing what we know now, Jackson still had to have the vision and guts to take Porzingis, considered to be a long-term project and a risky-enough pick to make Knicks fans boo on draft night.

That's history now, of course. Porzingis buried a couple of 3-pointers with defenders on him Tuesday and had that putback dunk that provided the Internet with another viral Vine.

With 2:58 left in regulation, Durant was isolated on Porzingis and took the rookie to school, blowing by him and dunking, leaving Porzingis' long arms grasping for air. But a little over a minute later, Porzingis came back and drove and made a double-clutch layup with a very agile move for somebody of his size. The rookie has moxie and isn't afraid.

Durant finally put the Knicks away with seven points in overtime.

"He played well," Durant said about Porzingis. "He's a tough cover. He can shoot the 3. And he can get to the rim and block shots. Yeah, he's a tough cover."

Where Durant will play next season remains to be seen. But in his final appearance in New York this season, he saw enough unicorn sightings to get a preview of what the Knicks will be pitching to him later this summer should he grant Jackson an audience. And that's more than what some other suitors will have to offer.