Forget about the Golden State Warriors keeping their championship hopes alive in the NBA Finals with Mondays insane win over the Toronto Raptors. Game 5 was all about Kevin Durant’s questionable return and devastating exit, an exit that now changes the entire NBA landscape.
Durant displayed nothing but heart and guts Monday night after returning from a calf injury that sidelined him since May 8th in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Scoring 11 points in the first quarter, Durant’s presence on the court energized the Warriors offense helping them jump to an early lead.
Making their first five 3-pointers in the first five minutes of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors looked like a better team with Kevin Durant playing. Unfortunately, that narrative quickly changed nine minutes into the second quarter when Durant got injured again.
The scene was heartbreaking as he fell down to the floor immediately grabbing the back of his right leg. Unable to walk to the locker room on his own, Durant’s NBA Finals comeback was over with his career now in question. After news broke yesterday that the injury Durant sustained was a torn right Achilles’ tendon, everything changed.
Sending shockwaves across the NBA, the implications surrounding Kevin Durant’s injury are huge. The Warriors dynasty, 2019 free agency, and the future of NBA contracts are now impacted by Durant’s injury, here’s why…
1. The Golden State Warriors dynasty may be over because Game 5 already proved that the Warriors are not a better team without Kevin Durant. Durant’s presence Monday night gave life to a struggling Warriors offense. It was obvious that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had more open space to shoot. With three of the best shooters in the NBA playing together at the same time, the Warriors are an offensive juggernaut that can completely take over a game and series. After Game 5’s first quarter was over, fans around the NBA got a feeling that it was the Warriors show from here on out.
Although the Warriors gave an admirable performance fending off each and every one of the Toronto Raptors attempts to regain and maintain the lead, I still believe the Raptors will win the series. Whether it’s back at Oracle tomorrow or back at home for Game 7 on Sunday, there is no reason why the Raptors cannot win. Without Durant in the NBA Finals, the Warriors are 8-9, with him they are 9-1 as a dynasty. Since Durant injured his calf, the Warriors have played uncharacteristically bad basketball. From frequently turning the ball over, rebounding poorly, to being inconsistent overall on defense, the Warriors are a completely different team without Durant.
As a result, Steve Kerr’s lineups in the Finals have been limited and run heavily on Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Even Curry putting up 30 plus points a game doesn’t guarantee a win against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors. Bottom line, for the Warriors to keep their dynasty alive, it takes three stars. Look at the 1980s Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, the 1990s Chicago Bulls, the 2010-14 Miami Heat, and the 1999-2014 San Antonio Spurs. They all had three stars. Right now, the Warriors only have two. If they manage to somehow beat the Raptors in Game 7, it will be because the Raptors choked. Im am not saying it cannot happen, no lead is safe in any sport. Regardless of the outcome, Durant’s Achilles injury officially ushers the beginning of the end for the Warriors dynasty.
There is no guarantee next year that the Warriors will make it back to the Finals nor will they be a shoo-in representing the Western Conference. Durant’s status was already in question before his injuries. In many ways, Durant’s tenure with the Warriors had always been viewed as short-term. Rumors began circulating over where Durant would play next after he won his first NBA title with the Warriors back in 2017. An exit was mostly likely going to happen this summer. It still can happen, Durant has a player option to enter free agency, but it would be a big financial risk for any team considering Durant’s Achilles injury. With or without him, the Warriors dynasty is affected.
2. Free agency 2019 was supposed to be a big boom for multiple stars becoming free agents. Ironically, the buzz starts and ends with Kevin Durant. The potential for players like Durant to team up with other star players like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard were generating a lot of hype. For the first time, July was going to be an exciting month for the NBA. Durant’s new injury only increases the likelihood that free agency could be a big bust.
Not only will Durant miss all of next season, returning back to an All-Star level will take him at least two full seasons of play. That timetable is so significant because free agency hinged on where Durant would land, now it hinges on whether teams like the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers are still willing to gamble on a player who may never be the same. With that said, free agents like Kyrie Irving, who wanted to team up with Durant in New York, will now have to reconsider their options.
Following an injured Durant is theoretically purgatory for any superstar looking to win a championship and create a new dynasty. Players like Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker will be forced to reconsider where they wanted to go and might just end up staying with their current teams. If that happens, the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are immediately impacted. For the Knicks, landing Durant or Zion Williamson was like winning the lottery. Sadly, they are poised to get neither. The only remaining option left is a trade for Anthony Davis, but even that may not happen because the Knicks simply do not have enough leverage. Impressing New Orleans Pelicans will take giving up the number three draft pick. At this point, that’s the Knicks only asset. This leaves teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, who are now in a prime position to land Davis before next Thursday’s draft.
With all these potential team-up scenarios now in flux, all eyes shift to the next coveted free agent, Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s decision to leave the Toronto Raptors, a team he did not have any say in going to via trade from the San Antonio Spurs, is now one win away from giving Canada their first NBA title. If Kawhi manages to beat the Warriors tomorrow, leaving Toronto would not be a basketball decision. Kawhi has every reason to stay in Canada. He would instantly be a Canadian hero, ruler of "We the North”, have time to rest mid-season, get money he couldn’t dream of getting anywhere else, and build a dynasty with a promising General Manager in Masai Ujiri at the helm.
3. Future NBA contracts are now going to be viewed differently by veterans, upcoming stars, and superstar free agents after Durant’s injury. Notable free agents like Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler could lean towards getting long-term max deals with their current teams because the coveted short-term contract is just too risky. Although players have more power and freedom when signing three and four year deals, they really are betting on an uncertain future that guarantees nothing. Most likely, players that do sign short-term contracts are usually vying for their first or second ring. To get that, players end up sacrificing the biggest and most expensive contract. Durant did that when he joined the Warriors back in 2016. If he decides to forgo his player option and enter free agency, Durant’s value certainly will certainly be impacted now that he has a torn Achilles.
Sadly, that is the narrative that looms over Kevin Durant. Will he ever be the same player? Should he have played injured? As a fan and someone who has played high school varsity basketball, you cannot blame Durant’s decision to play in an elimination game. He loves the sport, hated not being on the court, and ultimately let the noise get the best of him. Pro-athletes do this all the time when they are injured because they know their championship window is thin. There is a reason why tape, spray, needles, and pills are used in games like the NBA finals, Super Bowl, and the World Cup. But to what end do athletes get smarter and realize that the beginning of the end is only one play, shot, or goal away? Historically, Achilles injuries have not favored athletes nor basketball players. Even Kobe Bryant, one of the greats was never the same after tearing his Achilles in 2013.
For a player who was recently reported as the tenth highest paid athlete in the world by Forbes, Durant’s career in the NBA is a big question mark. Co-host Max Kellerman from ESPN’s First Take said it best:
If they (Warriors) win another title. KD sacrificed the rest of his prime on the altar of contributing to another championship…Who really profits off of that? Is it KD’s reputation? Yes, in a certain way. It’s the Warriors who if he then leaves don’t have to pay him for his decline. Got every single thing out of him. Created an atmosphere of pressure and now the executives want you to feel sorry for them for creating that atmosphere of pressure.
In the end, athletes like Durant are paid millions to perform at a high level. That is their job, yet in an instant, they can go from starting in the Finals to spending all of their fortunes in a matter of years. Case and point, Allen Iverson, the 11-time All-Star of the Philadelphia 76ers earned over $200 million throughout his NBA career. After Iverson retired, he went from being successful and famous to forgotten and broke. I think the biggest question that current free agent players, upcoming NBA draftees like Zion Williamson of Duke, and hopeful NCAA student athletes still in college have to recognize is that playing in the NBA is not long. Maintaining a healthy career is virtually impossible and with Durant’s injury, I predict that younger stars will start opting for longer contracts, more guaranteed money, seeking out more endorsement deals, and planning a post-NBA career in their mid 20s.
Durant’s injury was a reminder to all basketball players that they are not immortal. At the end of the day, being a player in the NBA is just a job in a sport that is run like a Fortune-500 business. A harsh and cut throat business where players can be on a team one day and gone the next via free agency, trade, or injury. Nobody will know whether Durant will be the same player again, but anyone who considers themselves a sports fan has to be rooting for him. I will be rooting for Kevin Durant, but his injury nevertheless is tragic.
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