With just one impactful misstep on Monday, Kevin Durant changed the NBA.
The sight of the star of the Golden State Warriors falling to the court with an Achilles tendon injury during Game 5 of the NBA Finals not only sapped breath from the game, it put in flux the entire scope of the impending free agent season, not only for Durant, but for others whose destinations may have depended on his decision.
For most of the 2018-19 season, debate has ensued about what Durant would do after the season. Would he opt to re-sign with the Warriors or would he test the free agent market? Now, everything needs to be reconsidered.
In the wake of the injury, and Golden State’s 106-105 win to keep the series alive, Warriors general manager Bob Myers admitted the team was expecting the worst from the MRI it ordered for Durant on Tuesday.
“It’s an Achilles injury,” Myers said after the game. “I don’t know the extent of it. He’ll have an MRI tomorrow. Prior to coming back he went through four weeks with a medical team, and it was thorough, and it was experts and multiple MRIs and multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process.”
As you know, Durant hadn’t played since injuring his right calf on May 8 against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. His condition had been the source of daily updates and conjecture.
Finally, the Warriors announced Durant would be available to play in Game 5 with no restrictions. And to be honest, he seemed to be moving fluidly and was making a huge impact on the game. He had scored 11 points in 12 minutes, effortlessly draining threes, until suffering this totally unrelated new injury.
“He was cleared to play tonight,” Myers said. “That was a collaborative decision. I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me. I run our basketball operations department. And to tell you something about Kevin Durant: Kevin Durant loves to play basketball, and the people that questioned whether he wanted to get back to this team were wrong.
“He’s one of the most misunderstood people. He’s a good teammate, he’s a good person, it’s not fair. I’m lucky to know him. I don’t know – I don’t have all the information on what really the extent of what it all means until we get an MRI, but the people that worked with him and cleared him are good people. They’re good people.”
Durant was not at ScotiaBank Arena at the end of the game. He left on crutches, wearing a walking boot on his right leg, accompanied by Myers and Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance.
“I’m hurting deep in the soul right now I can’t lie,” Durant wrote on Instagram. “But seeing my brothers get this win was like taking a shot of tequila, I got new life lol.”
If the Achilles tear is confirmed, Durant will miss most, if not all, of the 2019-20 season. And not having him around will almost certainly color the thinking of some teams who were prepared to max out his earnings.
Consider what a catch he would be: He finished the playoffs averaging 32.3 points, shooting 44 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line. According to the league, Durant is the first player in NBA history to average 30 points with a shooting percentage slash line of 50-40-90 in a single postseason with at least five games played.
There is a reason many consider him the best player in the NBA. And along with the Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were considered serious suitors. The never understated New York Daily News sports page headline on Tuesday was “Knicks Lose Game 5” with a picture of Durant clutching his right heel.
It’s entirely likely Durant may now just exercise his option to re-sign with the Warriors for $31.5 million. That seems the safest road to travel. But he might not take it.
With Durant likely unavailable next season, everyone must decide whether to gamble on his health, already knowing there will be no immediate return on investment. Players like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Guy, Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups have all recovered from this injury. But there is no assurance Durant’s recovery would be as quick and complete.
And if the interest in Durant subsides, what does that mean for Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler? Will the focus shift to them? And what of Anthony Davis? If Durant is deemed a risk, will the teams interested in him turn their attention to swinging a deal with New Orleans?
The Warriors still have a chance to win their third straight NBA title and it’s impossible to say how not having Durant again will impact as the series return to California.
It was clear Durant’s teammates found inspiration in his absence on Monday, especially after a few dimwits in the Toronto crowd began cheering when Durant went down.
“Did you hear it?” Thompson told The Athletic. “It was bullshit. That was freaking ridiculous. I can’t even put into words how mad I was about that. And I see (rapper) Tory Lanez dumbass cheering about his injury …”
Stephen Curry elaborated on how the Warriors were feeling.
“Sometimes the spirit tells you what to do,” Curry explained. “You don’t really make decisions, you just act on it. I can’t tell you what went through my head. It just felt right.”