It feels cold and callous to even talk about this right now.
Later tonight or early tomorrow morning the Warriors will receive and release the results of the MRI on Kevin Durant‘s right Achilles, but the team expects — as does anyone who watched it happen — that it will confirm a tear. It’s a career-threatening injury that may sideline Durant all of next season and could change the player he is down the line. It has cast a shadow over these NBA Finals.
Knowing that, talking about Durant and free agency — something that 24 hours ago was one of the biggest stories in the NBA — seems shallow.
Yet the grind of NBA free agency never stops. It will come on July 1, and Durant will have decisions to make then injury or not.
Durant’s injury is not going to change the marketplace much for him, the real question is, does it change his mindset?
Durant has a $31.5 million option for next season, something he has been a lock to opt out of no matter where he decided to play next season. His new starting salary — again, no matter where he plays — will be an estimated $38.2 million next season, meaning to opt-in he would give up $6.7 million. That’s not happening.
Meaning, expect Durant to still be a free agent.
Will other teams back off their pursuit of Durant? Don’t bet on it. Durant is one of a handful of true franchise cornerstone, “we can win a title with him as our best player” guys in the NBA, and if the cost of getting him is to pay for a year without his services, teams will be okay with that. The Knicks, Clippers, Nets, and everyone else will have that mindset.
Don’t take my word for it, here is what ESPN’s Bobby Marks — the former Nets front office man who is the network’s cap guy and front office insider — said this morning on Get Up after he talked to teams. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)
“I said … If you had cap space, would you go out and sign Kevin Durant knowing that he will likely be out maybe the whole year? And the resounding answer was ‘yes.’ Each of the teams also said that they wouldn’t even put any injury language in there for maybe years three and four to protect. So, yes, there will be a marketplace for Kevin Durant this summer, either with a team for four years, $141 million dollars or even back in Golden State here.”
The bigger question is the true unknown: How will the injury change Durant’s mindset? Or will it?
His manager said before the injury Durant had not made up his mind on his summer plans yet, and I believe that, but you can bet he had a lean. Around NBA front office circles, it was assumed he was going to bolt the Warriors to lead his own team somewhere else, the question was where. Now, it’s a legitimate question to ask, “does he even want to leave?” Will Durant sign a 1+1 deal to stay in Golden State, where he is comfortable, and see if he can be back to help this team in the playoffs next season?
I doubt Durant knows, or has even thought about this yet. It’s going to take time to process his feelings on the injury and his future, let alone come to any kind of decision.
But what he chooses will impact so many other moves. Teams were lining up to trade for Anthony Davis in hopes of using him to convince Durant to come there, now do those teams still throw as much into offers? You can be sure the teams that were targeting Durant are upping their efforts to go after other potential free agents such as Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker (those guys may stay with the Sixers and Hornets, respectively, if they get five-year max offers from their teams).
The playing field has changed… but nobody is exactly sure how yet.
And everyone is going to give Durant all the space he needs to make his decision about what he wants now.