The sporting world held its collective breath as Kevin Durant went down with an apparent Achilles injury during the first quarter of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. As Durant made a move his tendon snapped and he fell to the ground, clutching at his Achilles tendon fearing the worst. This tragically occurred during his first game back from a calf injury, where many had felt he was rushed back, and those feelings may be founded now that Durant has injured himself and will likely miss all of next season on top of the remainder of the Finals.
Despite this setback, the Warriors managed to win a scrappy affair in Toronto to bring the series back to 3-2, forcing a Game 6 in Oakland where they will fight tooth and nail to bring the series to a Game 7, salvaging what was looking like a lost season. It wasn’t easy for the Warriors, as Durant’s absence showed in the fourth quarter when Kawhi Leonard began to take over, leading the Raptors to a six-point lead with only a few minutes to spare. Following an ill-advised timeout by Nick Nurse, Golden State went on a 9-2 run to close out the game, albeit whilst surviving a few scares that nearly cost them the championship. Now a number of lingering questions remain, not just for the Finals but for the NBA going forward.
With Durant gone for the rest of the Finals, it’s up to the Warriors to bring back their pre-Kevin Durant days of old, where Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can bring us a throwback to their ‘Splash Brothers’ days and take over the series, forcing Toronto against the ropes as the Warriors hope to claw their way back into the series. Durant turned the Warriors into a dynasty, the cherry on top of what was being established, as he led them to back-to-back titles and himself won the Finals MVP each time. Now that he’s gone this dynasty looks to be coming to a close, as arguably the most star-studded and dominant team of all time is finally facing adversity.
But this does not mean the Finals are over. As the Raptors had Golden State down 3-1, many were preparing championship celebrations for the first time in Canada, and after Kevin Durant couldn’t make it past the opening ten minutes of Game 5, many saw the end for the Warriors. However Golden State themselves can tell you that a 3-1 deficit is not impossible to overcome, having been on either side of the equation in 2016, and if any team could do it, it’s the Warriors. They still have the two greatest three-point shooters of all time, Andre Iguodala whom was the Finals MVP for this current team’s first title and they still have Draymond Green, a walking swiss-army knife and a former Defensive Player of the Year. It is very much not out of question the idea that Golden State can force a Game 7 when the two teams meet in Oakland for Game 6. The dynasty may be ending, a new era may be on the horizon and their dominance may be put to an end, but Steve Kerr and his men will want to make sure that this dynasty ends on their terms, not anyone else’s.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Kevin Durant’s impending free agency. As it stands, Kevin Durant will be an Unrestricted Free Agent after the Finals are over, with an option to extend his stay with the Warriors for a further season. This season will be his rehabbing season, as he will be likely out for its entirety as he recovers and rehabs from his torn Achilles. Should he choose to exercise his player option and remain with the Warriors, this means a few teams for the NBA’s marquee team: Klay Thompson is also a Free Agent that is seeking a max contract. If Durant chooses to stay on for another year, that will eat up Golden State’s salary cap space meaning that they will not be able to offer Thompson a max contract. He has already been linked with a move to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that can afford to pay him, so it will be a big task to see how the Warriors can manage the salaries. Having the injured Durant on their roster may allow them a concession from the NBA, in the form of an $8m-$10m relief on their salary cap, enough room to sign a serviceable player in free agency to cover for Durant’s absence.
However, if Durant chooses to waive his player option and enter free agency it will give a lot of teams plenty to think about when assessing his availability. For one thing, the Warriors will then have room to sign Klay Thompson to a max contract and should they do so would see them return to the Warriors of old: a contender but not an automatic favourite like they were with Kevin Durant. It has almost been a foregone conclusion that Durant will sign with the New York Knicks, possibly bringing Kyrie Irving with him, but with the knowledge that he will miss a whole season and potentially lose some of his athleticism due to the troublesome injury that is an Achilles rupture, the Knicks may think twice about tying down Durant to a max contract. As will the other teams that are linked with him: the Lakers, Clippers, Nets and the rest. He was looking to be the hottest free agent property since LeBron James in 2010, but now this is injury has placed a cloud over his future as teams may not want to risk it. It’s no secret that athletes – especially basketballers – are never quite the same following an Achilles tear, so whichever team does roll the dice and lock him down may not get the best version of Durant.
For the sake of good basketball and the NBA, let’s hope that Durant can make a full recovery and return to dominating the sport for whatever team he does elect to sign on with.