When Kevin Durant fell to the court with a right Achilles injury, he sent shockwaves across the NBA, some teams having prepared for years to make him huge free agent offers in July.
Now the Golden State Warriors superstar forward is looking at a year of intense rehabilitation and another season working his way back to peak form, changing the dynamic of where dozens of top players might play next season.
Durant, who missed the past month with a right calf injury, suffered a right Achilles tendon injury in Golden State’s 106-105 NBA Finals victory over Toronto on Monday, pulling the Warriors within 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Suddenly the landscape of decision making has changed under NBA salary cap rules, the first domino expected to fall having been Durant’s choice.
Now maybe he doesn’t opt out of his Warriors contract and takes $31.5 million to rehabilitate in familiar surroundings with teammates who see him as a “brother.”
“We miss him. That’s our brother,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson, himself a free agent come July. “This is the best player in the world. With him we are really one of the greatest teams to ever play.”
Or maybe he’s unhappy about how he was used by the Warriors while hurt and is pushed to leave even more, having already been 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in winning his first two league crowns.
Then there is the market of NBA clubs. Do they risk a maximum offer to an injured Durant who might never again be the same dominating player he has been?
The New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers are among clubs that have made moves for years to clear cap room for this moment. But Durant’s impact on the court is delayed at least a year if not longer.