With a big free agent summer for Kevin Durant looming, here's how NBA careers have played out after Achilles injuries.
Kevin Durant's Achilles injury, sustained during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, will likely affect far more than just the Warriors' series against the Raptors.
Durant, playing his first game since Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Rockets, when he strained his calf, scored 11 points in 12 minutes on Monday. Though the severity of Durant's latest injury remains unclear—he's scheduled to undergo an MRI on Tuesday—the loss jeopardizes Golden State's chance to three-peat. The Raptors lead the NBA Finals 3–2 after Golden State's win in Game 5.
But the injury could also affect Durant's looming free agency and his status at the start of next season, depending on the severity of his injury and the nature of his recovery. Here's a look at several other players throughout history who suffered serious Achilles injuries, and how their careers were affected.
Injured: January 1992, age 21
Wilkins is an exception to the Achilles recovery mold. The 6'8" Hawks forward was injured the same day he was named to the 1992 All-Star Team and was ready to play by the training camp in September, a relatively quick turnaround, in a time when players used to routinely miss a year for it. He is also exceptional in that he picked up where he left off pre-injury, returning as one of the league's top scorers. He averaged 29.9, 26.0, 24.4, 29.1, 17.8 and 18.2 points over the next six seasons, making two more All-Star teams. Wilkins told the Sacramento Bee that one of the hardest parts of the recovery process was the depression he experienced after undergoing surgery.
Injured: April 1994, age 35
Thomas tore his Achilles in a late-season loss to the Magic and was forced into retirement. The longtime Pistons guard was in his 13th season when he sustained the injury. His production had already started to drop by a few points per game over his last two seasons, but he was still an asset (14.8 points, nearly seven assists and 2.7 rebounds per game). A Drexel University study published in 2013 found that of the 18 players to have an Achilles rupture from 1988-2011, seven never played again. Of course, Durant is at a totally different point in his career than Thomas was, and treatment has improved over the last 25 years.
Injured: June 1999, age 36
Like Wilkins, Ewing's rehab time after suffering a partial tear of his tendon was relatively short. Like Durant, his injury occurred in the playoffs, and he missed little of the following season, returning in December of '99. Unlike Wilkins, Ewing's statline wavered post-injury. Prior to it, the Hall of Famer averaged 23.3 points and 10.4 rebounds in his 977 games, but in the final three years of his career, those dropped to 9.6 and 7.0, respectively.
Injured: November 2004, age 30
Lenard was injured on the opening night of the '04-05 season, returning to play two more games the following April. From his debut in 1995 through the end of the '03-04 season, the former second-round pick averaged 12.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. After the injury, he averaged 8.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in the first 12 games of the '05-06 season with the Nuggets before sustaining more injuries. He was later dealt to Portland, where he played the final 13 games of his career and averaged 7.6 points and 1.8 rebounds.
Injured: April 2010, age 30
The Utah Jazz lost Okur in Game 1 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals and he returned in mid-December, eight months later. The 6'11" Okur started all 73 games in which he played in the '09-10 regular season, averaging 13 points—a considerable drop from his 17 points per game the previous year—and 7.2 rebounds. After the injury, he only played 30 more games over the final two years of his career, averaging 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds.
Injured: March 2013, age 34
Bryant tore his Achilles in April 2013 and proceeded to miss eight months recovering. He returned in December 2013. Bryant was past the prime of his career by the time he got injured, and four years older than Durant is now. Prior to the injury, however, he was still averaging 27.3 points and making 45.4% of his shots. In his final three seasons (107 games) he averaged 18.9 points on 36.6% shooting. But again: Those were his age 35-37 years.
Injured: March 2015, age 28
Matthews's recovery was exceptionally quick. After sustaining the injury in the spring, he returned in October. Prior to his injury, the shooting guard averaged 15.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in his time with the Trail Blazers, making nearly 49% of his two-point attempts. Since then, his production has slowed to 12.7 points and 3.1 rebounds, averaging 43.5% on two-pointers.
Injured: January 2017, age 30
Gay, with the Kings at the time of his injury in January 2017, signed a two-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs in the 2017 offseason and returned for the start of the following season. Prior to his injury, Gay averaged 18.4 points and 5.9 rebounds on 45.2% shooting in 11 seasons. In 126 games since returning, he's averaged 12.7 points and six rebounds, shooting 49%. Though Durant is on another level as a player, Gay's recovery could be instructive, as he was in his 12th season when he returned, while Durant just finished his 12th season.
Injured: January 2018, age 27
Cousins, then playing for the Pelicans, was injured ahead of a free agent summer and ended up striking a low-risk deal with the Warriors, with whom he rehabbed and made his 2019 debut in mid-January. Cousins averaged 16.3 points and eight rebounds in just under 26 minutes during his 30-game regular season performance. He injured his quad in the first-round series against the Clippers and returned for Game 3 of the Finals. He's averaged 7.6 points on the series.
These nine players are only a sampling of those that have injured their Achilles; others include Maurice Taylor, Chauncey Billups and Anderson Verajao, just to name a few. While we don't know the extent of Durant's condition, there's historical precedent for him to continue to go on to have a long career, but history suggests it's not easy to return to form after recovering.
It's quite plausible that Durant still elects to hit free agency, as he'll have plenty of suitors. But he could also play it safe, take his $31.5 million player option in Oakland and then hit the open market again a year from now.