The calf strain that kept Kevin Durant out for a month has threatened to overshadow the NBA Finals.
Without going as far as suggesting that the Toronto Raptors might need an asterisk next to their name if they beat a Durant-less Golden State Warriors, the absence of the two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP would certainly have played a major role if the title ends up in Canada.
When he finally returned in Game 5 on Monday night, Durant lasted 12 minutes before rupturing his Achilles. If his calf strain had dominated coverage of the Finals until last week, the most recent injury has the potential of shaping the dynamics in the NBA for years to come.
First and foremost, it puts the Warriors back to square one as far as the series is concerned. Golden State has struggled at both ends of the court without Durant and they will need Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to be at their absolute best if they are to become only the second team in history to come back from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals.
Off the court, the ramifications of Durant’s injury are likely to stretch much further.
For more than a year now there’s been an acceptance that this was going to be his last season at Golden State. A third consecutive NBA title was almost a formality as was Durant deciding to opt out of his contract this summer to become a free agent.
While speculation over his future has abounded, the two-time NBA champion has been deliberately coy about his plans. What is certain is that Durant wants to be the face of a franchise and wasn’t particularly impressed by suggestions the Warriors were a better team without him – Golden State entered the Finals with a 31-1 record in games in which Durant did not play but Curry did.
A number of teams will have space for at least one max salary free agent this summer. The New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Clippers and even the Los Angeles Lakers all have the financial flexibility to table a pitch to Durant.
The Knicks in particular have been considered the favorite to land the former Oklahoma City Thunder player, potentially alongside Kyrie Irving. However, with the latter also giving serious consideration to offers from the Brooklyn Nets, as reported by ESPN, would the Knicks go all in for an injured Durant?
Data compiled by ESPN Stats & Info, shows that NBA players who suffer Achilles injuries take at least nine months to recover and their performances are significantly diminished in their first season back from injury.
It is perfectly possible New York deems Durant a risk worth taking and throws all its money at him. At the same time, the Knicks, the Nets and the Clippers could also hold fire and battle it out for some of the other superstars available this summer, chief among them Anthony Davis.
Curiously, Durant’s impact on the Clippers could be two-fold. His injury might change their plans for the summer and pave the way for the Raptors to win the title, which in turn could convince Kawhi Leonard to remain in Toronto.
Should Leonard opt to extend his stay in Canada, would the Clippers consider paying for an injured Durant and waiting for him to recover?
Amid all these scenarios, there is also one which sees the 30-year-old remain at Golden State. Durant could pick up his player option, earn $31.5 million next season with the Warriors and become a free agent at the end of the season.
A ruptured Achilles tendon might alter the NBA landscape in ways few thought possible.