TORONTO — The ashen face of Warriors president Bob Myers on Monday was out of concern for Kevin Durant, a player who Myers had grown close with over three successful seasons in Golden State, who after suffering an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals was likely facing surgery and a lengthy rehab before he steps on an NBA court again.
“He's one of the most misunderstood people,“ Myers said, choking back tears. “He's a good teammate. He's a good person. It's not fair. I'm lucky to know him.”
This is an emotional time for Myers, for everyone in the Warriors organization. But in less than three short weeks, NBA free agency will begin. And Myers will have to face the reality of Durant’s situation.
Any decision the Warriors could have to make about Durant could be done for them, with Durant having the ability to trigger a $31.5 million player option for next season. It’s a safe play; recovery time for a torn Achilles is about a year, give or take, longer for a player to rediscover his game. DeMarcus Cousins, Durant’s teammate, tore his Achilles in late January, 2017. He returned nearly a year later and is still trying to regain his All-Star form.
Durant suffered the injury as a Warrior, returning—perhaps too soon—to help save the Warriors, so it would be fitting for him to recover with the Warriors, collecting close to max-level money before entering free agency next summer, at 31.
This is where Durant and his agent, Rich Kleiman, will have to do their homework. Despite the injury, teams will likely still be willing to offer Durant a max level contract, three rival team executives told SI.com. “Offer him the max, show him loyalty and then hope to get three great years out of him,” one exec said.
The Knicks could be one of them. For months, Durant has been seemingly earmarked for New York, with the Knicks maintaining the cap flexibility to sign him last summer and creating (with a little more maneuvering) the space to sign a second max-contract player by dumping Kristaps Porzingis in January. New York has gone all-in on free agency (again) and it’s hard to see this injury stopping them from making a four-year offer.
The Clippers, too. LA has done an astonishing amount of legwork on Kawhi Leonard, but with the Raptors one win away from a championship, there is a strong possibility Leonard elects to stay in Toronto, perhaps on a short term deal. The Clippers were a fun story last season, surviving the midseason trade of their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, to make the playoffs and throwing a scare in Golden State when they got there. But sustainable success is impossible with the current roster, and the Clippers know it, making them a contender to roll the dice on Durant.
And what about the Warriors? Before Durant’s injury, ownership vowed to do what it took to keep the five-time NBA Finals team together. The price would have been steep—ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimated the total cost of keeping the Warriors band together at $1.6 billion over the next four years—but with the team headed into a new, privately owned building in San Francisco, revenue expects to spike.
If Durant demanded a max-level deal in order to stay, would the Warriors oblige? Letting Durant walk would slice nearly $1 billion off the payroll, per Marks. Flexibility to sign big ticket free agents would be limited, but the Warriors would have more financial freedom to acquire depth, a glaring weakness during this postseason.
But Durant’s free agency is about more than just Durant. The Knicks have dreams of pairing Durant with Kyrie Irving. The Nets, too. Privately, some Clippers officials harbor hopes of luring both Durant and Leonard to southern California.
This injury changes the calculus. Would Irving go to New York, knowing the team would struggle in its first season, with Durant on the shelf? Would Irving leave Boston—which is privately bracing for his departure—to join a Nets team, without Durant, that is effectively Boston Lite? Is there another free agent (Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler) that Brooklyn could lure to sweeten the deal for Irving?
Could Boston (gulp) keep Irving? The erosion of Irving’s feelings towards the Celtics since his public declaration that he intended to re-sign last October has been swift, and there are those in and around the organization that believe he is gone. Team president Danny Ainge isn’t one of them. Ainge remains determined to do what he can to keep Irving, league sources tell SI.com, and the Celtics can still recruit Irving by vowing to do whatever it takes to bring Anthony Davis to Boston. The Celtics can still offer the strongest collection of players and draft picks, with Jayson Tatum the centerpiece of it.
It’s a longshot, but Durant’s injury threatens to throw what was already expected to be a wild offseason into complete chaos. The possibility that the Warriors could break up after this season had already emboldened NBA executives to be aggressive, and now with Durant unlikely to play next year regardless, the field is perceived to be wide open.
Kevin Durant has some big decisions to make in the coming weeks. The rest of the NBA does, too.