Will the NBA's reigning MVP return to the court this season?
Thunder general manager Sam Presti announced Friday that Kevin Durant will stop participating in basketball activities due to ongoing soreness in his surgically repaired right foot. That decision calls into question Durant's availability for the remainder of the regular season and the 2015 playoffs.
"We are going to remove him from basketball activities on the floor," Presti told reporters at a press conference in Oklahoma City. "He's not making the progress we had hoped."
Durant, 26, has played in just 27 games this season after having surgery in October to address a Jones fracture in his right foot. That sidelined Durant for the first month of the season. He returned to the court in early December but went on to miss time with ankle injuries. Then, in February, Durant underwent a follow-up procedure to address a screw inserted into his foot.
Officially Presti said that Durant remains out "indefinitely," but suggested that the Thunder would not be pressing Durant to return this season. Oklahoma City has just 14 games remaining this season and the playoffs are set to begin on April 18, less than one month from now.
"Unless [Durant is] able to be back on the floor without soreness, he won't be back on the floor," Presti said. "[He's] out until he's able to return and play without the soreness in his foot. ... If that takes the rest of the regular season, the rest of the playoffs, that's what it's going to take."
There is no two ways about it: This is a grim turn of events for the Thunder (38-30), who currently hold a one-game lead over the Pelicans (37-31) for the West's final playoff spot. Oklahoma City announced earlier this week that Serge Ibaka would likely miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing knee surgery, leaving All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to keep the team's postseason hopes afloat. Even that pursuit now seems a bit fruitless, as claiming the No. 8 seed would only mean a first-round date with the Warriors, who boast the league's best record at 54-13.
Durant, a six-time All-Star, is averaging 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 51% overall and 40.3% from deep this season. Assuming he doesn't return this season, Durant would miss 55 games, far surpassing the 16 combined games he missed during the first seven seasons of his eight-year career. A four-time scoring champ, Durant has been a postseason mainstay in recent years, advancing to the playoffs every season from 2010-14. He helped lead the Thunder to the Western Conference finals in '11, '12 and '14, and to the '12 Finals, where Oklahoma City fell to Miami in five games.
Whether or not he returns to the court, Durant's ongoing health issues set up a pressure-packed 2015-16 campaign. Next season is the final year of Durant's current contract, and he is on track to become an unrestricted free agent in July '16, when the NBA's salary cap is set to skyrocket. Rumors about Durant's future have already swirled for months, and will only intensify as he approaches free agency, especially if he is unable to claim the first championship of his career in small-market Oklahoma City.