“I think it’s a no-brainer,” an NBA executive told Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic. “It’d be one thing if he wasn’t skilled like he is. He’s one of the most skilled guys in the NBA… The guy is so f--king skilled, even if he loses a step he’ll be fine.”
Durant expected to enter free agency this summer with the NBA seemingly at his mercy. Questions regarding his free agency hung over the Warriors' season, with new rumors of KD taking his talents to New York seemingly cropping up by the week.
Everything changed when Durant returned from a calf injury for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, going down with a ruptured Achilles after playing only 12 minutes. The injury will in all likelihood keep him out the entire 2019-20 season and may have ended his prime in one fell swoop.
The history of NBA players suffering Achilles injuries is nothing short of catastrophic. The only high-profile star to come back around his pre-injury performance level was Dominique Wilkins, who made two more All-Star teams after rupturing his Achilles at age 32. Rudy Gay has also come back roughly as good of a player, but much of that has to do with a changed role in San Antonio.
“No question about it,” Wilkins told Vorkunov of whether Durant could return at the same level. “There’s so much more advantages now for guys to get back. The medicine now vs. the medicine when I was playing is totally different. We had to work that much harder back then.”
Whatever team signs Durant will be wanting a superstar-caliber player. Even a slightly diminished Durant—something around 90-95 percent—would be worth a maximum contract. He was arguably the best player in the world before the injury, putting together one of the greatest postseasons in NBA history. A slightly lesser version of that is still a good All-Star, and those guys are regularly given max contracts because of the league's salary structure.
Said team also has to be comfortable with paying a $38 million redshirt season. The Warriors and Knicks appear to be the likeliest options—the Warriors for loyalty and running it back and the Knicks because they have a young core they can develop while Durant rehabs.