We’ll hear this a lot over the next few weeks: basketball is a business. It’s this cold shorthand repeated by NBA executives, players, and fans to explain away tough decisions and uncomfortable conversations. It seems disrespectful to even utter those words in the wake of Kevin Durant’s Achilles injury. Durant, who missed a month of playoff basketball, suited up last night against the Toronto Raptors to stave off elimination in The Finals. In a long stint in the first quarter and a brief appearance in the second, he reminded the world just how special he is. It wasn’t the eleven points in twelve minutes that KD effortlessly dropped in Game 5 that made him stand out. It was the joy in his face and the competitive grit in his teeth. This was Durant in his element, one of the world’s greatest basketball players performing on the biggest basketball stage.
Unfortunately, that all got taken away with one false step. His absence will echo throughout the remainder of The Finals. It’s already revealed the Warriors’s championship resolve and mettle. But basketball is a business. There are twenty-eight other teams in the league who are already focused on next season and Durant was set to become the most sought after free agent on the market.
Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Durant is heading to New York for an MRI to confirm the extent of his injury and to meet with doctors. All signs point to a year of rehab and recovery for Durant. What’s unclear is how the rest of the NBA reacts.
Durant has options. He still has the second half of the 1 + 1 contract that he signed with the Warriors last summer. His player option for 2019-2020 is worth $31.5M and considering the timelines of past Achilles injuries, he’ll more than likely miss all of next season rehabbing. Recovering in Golden State for a year where he’s spent that last three seasons could be an appealing possibility.
A team could also offer KD a max contract regardless of the prognosis. As former Celtic Kendrick Perkins suggested, the Warriors could offer him a five-year super max that no other team could. The New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers could follow suit and offer max deals, too. There’s risk involved, but we’re talking about arguably the best player of this generation. There are many success stories on returning from an Achilles injury and the soon-to-be 31-year-old could still perform at a high level through the life of his next contract.
For the Celtics, Durant’s injury will generate a lot of chatter and rumors. There’s no way to know how this affects Kyrie Irving’s impending free agency or Danny Ainge’s pursuit of Anthony Davis, but there will certainly be ripple effects. There are so many permutations of how this could go down. With Kevin Durant’s immediate future unknown, Danny Ainge could go all-in on a trade for Davis to convince Irving to stay in Boston or Ainge might decide that pursuing Durant next summer as a free agent is the best course of action. We just don’t know. Any speculation would be just that.
Basketball may be a business, but it’s about people, too. If you haven’t seen Bob Myers’ press conference from last night, his anguish and tears laid bare the very real human drama surrounding KD’s injury. Durant’s absence next year will somehow get reflected on some team’s balance sheet, but it seems unfair to commodify it or treat it as an element of some emotional calculus that we can somehow solve in order to predict the decision-making of another player.
Get well, KD. We’ll see you soon.