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Injury Leaves Kevin Durant Only One Acceptable Option This Season: Win a Title

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMarch 1, 2017

SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 4: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on February 4, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Sometime later in life, Kevin Durant will say he wouldn't change a thing…because that's what people invariably say when there's no real-life way to change a thing anyway.

Truth is, only one acceptable result exists for Durant this season. There was always only one.

The Golden State Warriors have to win the NBA title—with Durant's help.

The caveat about him helping them is necessary now that Durant's health is in question. The Warriors announced Wednesday morning that Durant has a tibial bone bruise and moderate MCL sprain of his left knee. Such a sprain generally causes a six-week absence, but the bone bruise could take even longer to heal.

So Durant's availability and excellence for a potential two-month playoff run is something the Warriors are hoping for, not banking on.

If he doesn't make it back and they lose, or if he doesn't make it back yet they win, or if he doesn't make it back effectively and they lose, or if he doesn't make it back effectively yet they win, or if he does make it back effectively yet they still lose…

That's a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose proposition for Durant, which is a testament to the uniqueness of Durant's free-agent move.

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He has to be great, and his new team has to be greater.

No context is allowed; no freak injury is an excuse.

His move was daring in a sense, even as it looked like the easy way out from almost every angle.

Durant put himself on a pedestal. A lot of people are scared to do that—or resent it when others try to do that to them—because you either don't fall or you fall.

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 15:  (L-R) Stephen Curry #30, Kevin Durant #35, Draymond Green #23 and Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors display the AllStar Jerseys prior to the start of an NBA Basketball game against the Sacramento Kings at ORACLE Ar
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

You don't get much credit for still standing.

And now that Durant is down for the moment, the pressure he was put on himself has become crystal clear.

Durant has been both outstanding and efficient for the Warriors, who have been the best team in the league. He has even grown his game to fit his new team's needs by tapping into defensive rim protection. Anyone who thought Durant was the best player in the Western Conference before his move still can believe that is the case.

Yet now, as we ponder what the Warriors will look like without him and what they might play like with him marginalized during a playoff run, it's easy to assume they'll actually be fine.

For the acknowledgement Durant has gotten for his defense this season, he is actually fourth on the team behind Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in defensive win shares. He's ninth on the team in defensive rating, even though Durant's size and agility are of obvious value.

Durant's plus-11.1 tally when he is on the court this season is far behind Curry's plus-12.9. And because Andre Iguodala has proved more than capable with a bigger role before—and won against LeBron James in the NBA Finals before—the belief is that he can help fill the gap again.

This isn't to say Durant isn't great; but what was always unclear is how much he could make the Warriors greater.

Durant and his teammates can give us all the platitudes they want about his becoming part of their team or the quality time they've spent together in recent months. We've also all underestimated just how ready Durant was for change in his personal life and how the move made sense for him in that regard—and how you can only make life decisions for cause, not effect.

But none of it matters when we ultimately pass judgment on Durant's first Warriors season.

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Gerald Green #30 of the Boston Celtics look on during a game on November 18, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

This is the season he made his decision. This is the one all set up—before Curry's salary skyrockets—for the Warriors to be a superteam.

For now, however, what looked easy to many at least looks harder.

Curry's mild MCL sprain last spring showed that bouncing right back on the court and back in sync with even longtime teammates after injury isn't guaranteed.

And it's even possible the Warriors slip now without Durant and lose home-court advantage in the playoffs to the Spurs, who sit four games back. The teams have two March road dates in San Antonio, both after the Warriors play road games the previous night.

Still, the adversity now might make us all appreciate Durant more than if the Warriors just cruised through to June and took the title we presumed they would upon Durant's decision last July. Perhaps Durant will even garner a little more credit if it all works out in the end for him and his team.

That's only if, however, he makes it back and unequivocally helps them win it all.

    

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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