Kevin Durant's Achilles Injury Irrevocably Alters NBA Finals and so Much More

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2019

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 10: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors walks on the court against the Toronto Raptors during Game Five of the NBA Finals on June 10, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mark Blinch/Getty Images

"It's an Achilles injury."

With those four words in a brief, emotional press conference after Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals, Golden State Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers confirmed the basketball world's worst fears about Kevin Durant and turned the NBA upside down in every way imaginable.  

Durant was spectacular in his first game in just over a month, scoring 11 points in only 12 minutes and draining all three of his three-point attempts during the Warriors' season-saving 106-105 win over the Toronto Raptors.

But that was before he got hurt shortly into the second quarter. Now, he will undergo an MRI on Tuesday morning, the results of which will reverberate around the league in countless ways, both now and into the future. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski are reporting the Warriors believe it's a torn right Achilles’ tendon. 

No injury could possibly be more widely and devastatingly impactful than this one, to this player, on this team, at this time.

The future of the Warriors dynasty has hung in the balance all series—all season, really—as Durant's upcoming free agency cast a shadow over everything they did.

After he suffered a right calf strain midway through the second round of the playoffs, Golden State finished off the Houston Rockets in six games and swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals. The ensuing chatter that the Warriors didn't need Durant, or even that they were better without him, was nonsense. This was laid bare as they ran up against a deep, talented Raptors team that built a 3-1 Finals lead heading into Monday night.

Meanwhile, Durant's return was put off repeatedly as his camp and the Warriors' medical staff decided he wasn't yet ready to play. He returned to practice for the first time Sunday and, less than 24 hours later, made his return to the court in a do-or-die Game 5.

And then it was all over.

TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 10: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts to his leg injury during a game against the Toronto Raptors during Game Five of the NBA Finals on June 10, 2019 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER:
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

It's fair to ask questions about the handling of Durant's injury from all sides. It goes without saying he badly wanted to play, to prove that the Warriors do need him, to put the focus back on the court rather than on what will happen when free agency begins July 1. But none of these decisions are made in a vacuum; Durant's manager, Rich Kleiman, and the Warriors front office, coaches and training staff are responsible for his well-being, and one or all of those parties should have thrown themselves in front of his desire to play.

Placing the blame on one of these groups is impossible without knowing the full extent of the process through which he was cleared. However, they had a collective responsibility to prevent the disaster scenario that occurred Monday, especially given the correlation between calf injuries and Achilles injuries.

The best-case outcome for allowing Durant to play after missing a month and only participating in one practice was simply to avoid a re-injury while extending the series another game or two. The worst case? Well, here we are.

Durant won't be playing again for the Warriors anytime soon, and he likely won't be playing anywhere else next season, either.

The likes of the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have spent months—years, in some cases—preparing their free-agent pitches, rosters and cap sheets to lure Durant away from the Warriors. Doing so would end one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the sport and shift the league's balance of power away from the Bay Area.

Durant is one of a small handful of players who can make any team a contender through his mere on-court presence, and the questions about his long-term future with the Warriors have been obvious all season. This summer's free-agent class is the most loaded since 2010, but Durant was to be the headliner.

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 8: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the New York Knicks on January 8, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or
Noah Graham/Getty Images

He'll still likely get a max contract, whether from the Warriors or one of those teams. Players of Durant's caliber are worth that risk even when coming off one of the worst injuries an athlete can suffer.

But depending on the official severity of the injury, Durant's impact next season will be limited—if he plays at all. Any team that signs him will be doing so with the 2020-21 season in mind. In the meantime, the loss of arguably the best player in the world, potentially for a full year, is the NBA's nightmare scenario.

Regardless of whether Durant re-signs with the Warriors, this postseason has revealed what this version of the two-time defending champions looks like without him, and they're eminently beatable. With Klay Thompson also due for a huge new contract and Draymond Green's next deal coming up a year after, Myers will have limited resources to bolster the bench around his superstar core.

The Western Conference is suddenly wide open.

Whenever Durant does return to the court, be it late next season or in the fall of 2020, there's no telling how he'll look. Will he be the unstoppable scorer, dead-eye shooter and defensive terror he's been for the past 12 years?

There isn't an extensive history of players as talented as Durant coming back good as new from Achilles injuries. He turns 31 in September, which should be the middle of his prime. Now, one of the best players of all time and a no-doubt future Hall of Famer will have the tail end of his career irrevocably altered. One of this generation's great success stories may now become one of its great what-ifs.

Amid all this, the Warriors and Raptors still have a Finals series to complete.

If Golden State can somehow overcome the seemingly insurmountable loss of Durant, come back from a 3-1 deficit and win its third straight title, it will be one of the gutsiest, most impressive comebacks in NBA history. The odds are long, as the first five games of this series have shown both how undermanned Golden State is without Durant and how formidable the Raptors are.

Durant wanted to be the Warriors' savior. It's probably too late for that.

Instead, he, the Warriors and the rest of the NBA are now left to deal with the aftermath of a day no one hoped would ever come.

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is currently based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter at @highkin.

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