- The mystery around the reigning Finals MVP's injury has led to rampant speculation that Golden State easily could have prevented.
The whispers around Kevin Durant and his somewhat-mysterious absence from the Finals are starting to grow louder, amplified by three The Athletic reporters long entrenched with Golden State. After Game 4, Tim Kawakami asked in a column if any of the team’s other important players were injured 30 days ago, “would the Warriors still be waiting for them?” Columnist Marcus Thompson tweeted after Game 4, “The whispers and questions and moods behind-the-scenes last night ... maaaaaan,” in reference to Durant’s situation. And then finally, Sam Amick wrote Sunday that Warriors players’s “irritation grew in large part because they simply didn’t understand why“ Durant wasn’t playing.
Here’s what we do know. Durant injured his calf on May 8 in Game 5 of the second round against the Rockets. It was a non-contact injury, and the initial reaction on Twitter was that Durant almost certainly tore his Achilles. The Warriors soon determined the injury was actually a strained calf, but they never really put a timetable on KD’s return, instead only announcing when he would be re-evaluated. Durant missed the entire conference finals, which Golden State won running away in a sweep, with Curry playing perhaps the best playoff series of his career.
Durant traveled with the Dubs to Toronto for the start of the Finals, a sign that perhaps his return was imminent. However, Golden State and Warriors coach Steve Kerr generally don’t put players back into the lineup (like many teams) until players have been through a full practice. Durant was supposed to get back to practice after Game 3, Kerr initially believed, but that didn’t happen, and Jalen Rose said on ESPN the night of Game 4 that KD’s individual workout with trainers went poorly. What is perhaps most important in all of this is the decision to keep Durant out is being made by the Warriors themselves, not Durant, according to Amick. And now, ahead of Game 5, Durant is returning to practice.
The mystery around this situation has led to rampant speculation. How committed is Durant to returning? How serious was Durant’s injury in the first place? Are the Warriors players aware of the severity of his injury, or do they think Durant should be on the floor? Honestly, the answers to all of these questions probably won’t be revealed until after the Finals, when the Durant tell-alls start to trickle out as his presumed departure from the Bay starts to become a reality. For now, this entire situation is incredibly unfair to Durant.
The cloud surrounding Durant would go away immediately if somebody within the Warriors spoke up in his defense. All it would take is Bob Myers delivering a statement to the press before a game, saying something along the lines of, “Our medical staff doesn’t feel comfortable putting Kevin on the floor until he’s healthy enough to play. We won’t rush him back.” Golden State needs to take the onus off KD and on itself, instead of letting its superstar twist in the wind as the wheels are put in motion for people to assume the worst. (Sorry, that was too many metaphors.)
Even if Durant does return for Game 5 (I still expect him to make an appearance in this series), the damage has mostly been done. Short of KD heroically leading a 3–1 comeback, his Finals will be remembered for his injury and why he didn’t play in the first four games while people spun yarns for Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, who returned from their own maladies to contribute.
If Durant isn’t healthy, then he shouldn’t be playing. It’s that simple. I don’t understand when we are supposed to applaud players for valuing their self interests and when we are supposed to call them selfish. But Durant doesn’t need to push through an injury and actually tear his Achilles just so largely the same writers who have been calling him non-essential for three years will finally start to respect him.
It also truly baffles me that the organization has let this situation play out this way. It’s not like Durant is completely blameless. Hell, no one is stopping his camp from leaking to the media that his injury was much more serious than people believed. I understand there’s some level of gamesmanship from the Warriors too, who probably want to keep the Raptors on edge about Durant’s status. Except that strategy has backfired through four games, and Toronto is bulldozing whoever Golden State throws out on the floor.
Maybe one day we will find out Durant really did slow play his injury, and really wasn’t committed to playing as soon as possible. Maybe the Warriors’ silence on the matter through four games is their way of hinting at their own organizational frustration with Durant. But Golden State has had ample opportunity to clear this mess up, and chose not to. If it was gamesmanship, it wasn’t worth it if it came at the expense of the players’ own sanity. One way or another, the Warriors’ silence on the matter through the first four games will ultimately be telling, either about how much they care about the perception of Durant in the first place, or about how much Durant actually wanted to play.