Basketball

How does Kevin Durant’s injury affect Warriors’ free-agency pursuit?

Less than one week ago, Kevin Durant's impending free agency seemed relatively cut and dry.

Continue rehabbing his strained calf. Pick his new team or stay with his current one. Make a boatload of money.

Now it's not so simple.

Durant will likely miss the entire 2019-2020 season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday. He's currently in New York recovering from successful surgery performed on Wednesday.

He can opt in to the final year of his Warriors contract and earn $31.5 million to rehab, then hit the open market after next season. Or he can opt out in hopes either the Warriors or another team offers him a max deal over multiple years, an offer that's less of a certainty now after his injury.

Regardless of how they keep him, the Warriors made it clear Friday they want Durant on the roster long-term.

"The injury kind of throws everything for a loop, so I have no idea what Kevin's going to do," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. "I know that we all want him back and we think this is a great situation for him and vice versa."

Durant led the league with 34.2 points per game in the playoffs before straining his calf in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Rockets. He missed the next nine games before returning for Game 5 of the Finals in Toronto on Monday. Early in the second quarter, Durant ruptured his Achilles after scoring 11 points in 12 minutes, showing he could still be a lethal scorer even if he wasn't 100 percent.

The injury will cost Durant most, if not all of, his age 31 season. Whichever team signs him to a hefty contract this free-agency period – the likely route Durant will take as opposed to opting in with the Warriors – will hope Durant returns to peak form at age 32 coming off a significant injury.

Speculation has run rampant this season regarding Durant's preference for his next team. He even went more than a week without talking to reporters earlier this season because he was fed up with all the free-agency talk. Now that the season is over and free agency sits less than three weeks away, does Warriors GM Bob Myers have any sense of what Durant might do?

"I don't know," Myers said Friday when asked about his level of optimism Durant wants to return. "The guy has been – like I said, what more can we ask for from him? He's been everything to us. The guy has been everything that we could've ever dreamed, been an awesome member of this organization and there's so much stuff he does in the community that probably doesn't get as many headlines, things he's done in D.C., his foundation, how he kind of lives his life.

"Like I said, we're lucky to have been around him. Hopefully we can keep doing that."

The likelihood Durant stays with the Warriors seemingly increases because of his injury. He can stay around a medical staff he's familiar with while rehabbing and lay low before hitting the market again in 2020 instead of acclimating to a new city and more media responsibilities if he chooses a new team.

The NBA's future will still be dictated heavily by what Durant does next month, even if the league's future hinges less on Durant's decision now than it did when he was healthy. The Warriors, still hopeful they're his choice, will let him make whatever decision he pleases.

"Hopefully we get him back and keep this thing going with the understanding that he's a free agent and we want what's best for him and he's free to make any choice he wants," Kerr said. "Hopefully he's back and we will all give him any advice, any counsel that he needs and ultimately he's gonna make his own decision. He's earned that."

  Comments