LAS VEGAS — "Signs of regression" served as the announced reason for Kevin Durant to undergo a third surgery on his right foot March 31, officially ending a season that saw the former MVP play 27 games.
Now that he has returned to the court with the dynamic force he brought back Wednesday on the second day of USA Basketball minicamp, Durant has no fear in acknowledging the severe state he found his fifth metatarsal in despite the two prior surgeries.
"It had a crack in it," Durant told Bleacher Report.
Durant also confirmed the extensive measures taken in that last surgery to give him the greatest chance to widen the bone and avoid his foot faltering again.
Durant used a controversial bone-graft material that is not FDA approved for use in the foot to promote greater bone growth this time. It mandated a longer recovery time in part because of an additional procedure to protect against overgrowth of bone.
"They stuffed some bone-graft thing in, and they pasted over the top of the area. That healed up in a couple of weeks," Durant said. "But then they stuck something else in there just to smooth it out and make sure it was thick. They did a lot."
It was all done because of how surprising it was that Durant's foot fractured again after it had been healing. Whatever vulnerabilities are now known about Durant's feet and bones needed to be offset for him to continue his Hall of Fame career with total confidence.
"I got like an extra layer of bone on the side of my foot that they put in there," he said. "That's why it took longer to heal. Keep it firm. I could've gone another route with surgery. That was the longest, and that was the safest."
Durant, 27 next month, is at a fascinating stage of his career, with an incredible confluence of forces coming together: The biggest non-LeBron free agency the NBA has ever seen is coming at the end of the season, Durant is dealing with a dramatic coaching change with Billy Donovan's arrival, the Thunder are still facing the expectations of a title not yet won and now, these real questions about his body.
It's a simple crossroads in another sense.
Durant has to find the best balance between his inherent go-often-and-go-harder mindset that has driven him to such success and has him determined to be better than ever—and easing up on his aggressiveness to protect both his short- and long-term health.
On the most basic point, Durant is cleared to play fully now on a "healed" bone. But when doctors say it is "healed," it is healed enough that based on basic evidence it should not break again; the bone will continue to heal on some small level for more than a year.
Yet Durant already suffered this most unexpected "regression" after the first screw was surgically replaced because the screw head was irritating the cuboid bone (a cube-shaped bone that connects the foot and ankle) near the fifth metatarsal on the outside of his foot.
That's why Durant, despite being one of the last players Tuesday and the last player Wednesday (among 34 players on the U.S. roster) to end his extra on-court reps in Las Vegas, is reluctantly scaling back his usual on-court work.
"I can't do too much no more," he said. "I love putting in work; I love being out on the court. But early on, I have to ease back into that part of it—two-a-days or working out after practice or working out when I land in a city or whatever I used to do. I've got to ease into it, and as time goes on, just get back into my routine."
His desire eventually to be himself with his old routine is natural, but worth debating.
Durant broke the bone once and then turned to dramatic measures via this synthetic INFUSE bone-graft protein—the type of push-the-envelope medical choice that athletes increasingly are making to maximize their bodies' possibilities. Robert Klapper, a Los Angeles orthopedic surgeon who was not involved in Durant's case, equated the steps taken in Durant's third surgery to "putting a belt on his pants—and suspenders."
Klapper said that after a year of healing, the fifth metatarsal in Durant's right foot should have greater integrity than ever before.
"There is no reason why Kevin Durant should not be like the Lopez twins (Brook and Robin), Pau Gasol, Michael Jordan and many other folks who've had metatarsal fractures and gone back and played and never had a problem again," Klapper said. "The data supports that he should come back stronger and should never have a problem with this again.
"That's the answer that you have to give. But nobody knows for sure."
That's because Durant developed the crack in the bone again—"unthinkable," according to Klapper—so it raises other questions about Durant's predisposition to fracturing any bone...or his specific body mechanics or being nearly 7'0" and operating out on the perimeter or even his Vitamin D levels.
Not that any club would or should refuse to pay max millions to sign Durant next summer, not that this is the dreaded navicular bone that undermined Yao Ming, but general managers and insurance carriers might have some stuff to think about.
By the same token, Durant has plenty to ponder, even with his self-assurance unquestionably intact.
He looked slightly tentative at the start of the first day of USA Basketball minicamp, but soon enough he was raining in jumpers that had people wondering when Durant's ball had last touched the rim.
"I feel like I'm the best player in the world," Durant said. "That's how confident I feel; that's how confident I am. No disrespect to any players here. But I always got that confidence.
"I didn't come here hoping to do good. I knew I was going to come out here and shoot the ball well and work hard and learn."
How did Durant measure the steps in this recovery from surgery?
In "championships." That's what he called his recovery benchmarks.
"The first one was just to put a shoe on," he said. "The second one was just to walk with two shoes. The third one was to run on the treadmill."
Jogging. Shooting. Dunking. He won all those "championships" he needed to.
"That's how I was getting through it," he said. "That's how I stayed positive."
That's who he is. That's how he should stay.
Yet it just can't be go-go-go forevermore for Durant after this eye-opening foot problem and eight NBA seasons.
Durant is not closed-minded. This is the guy who was reveling in post-practice work via USA Basketball "King of the Hill" challenges against James Harden and Paul George a year ago...and then suddenly bowed out to rest before the World Cup, jarred by risk morphing into reality right before his very eyes with George's gruesome broken leg.
Durant now knows he is indeed vulnerable. More than he ever imagined.
Has it changed him?
Just listen to how certain he is that the measures taken to close that crack in the bone have worked.
"I knew it was over after this: No more fracture, no more irritation in my foot," Durant said. “Everything was perfect in the third one.
"It was the easiest one because I had been through two already. And my mom was there taking care of me. It was sweet."
Durant laughed, feeling an awfully long way from that day he learned about this latest crack in his foot.
His challenge, however, is not to forget that it happened.
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing