After seeing initial reports, it is highly likely that Kevin Durant has suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Durant had been out of action since he strained his right calf in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Houston Rockets. After a morning shootaround before Game 5, Durant decided he felt well enough to play in last nights game with the Golden State Warriors in desperate need of a win. With 9:46 left in the second quarter, Durant pulled up lame and immediately went to the floor and had to be helped to the locker room. What kind of free agency implications does Kevin Durant’s injury have?
Examining Kevin Durant’s Future
Heading into the 2019 NBA free agency season, Kevin Durant appeared to be the biggest name on the free agency market. It also appeared that he wouldn’t be returning to the Warriors unless something drastic happened. The injury he suffered last night is going to change Durant’s career path.
Kevin Durant’s Options
After last season, Durant signed a one-plus-one max contract with the Warriors. Meaning, he signed a one-year max deal, with the option of opting in for a second year which will pay him $31.5 million. As the offseason neared, it was nearly a foregone conclusion that Durant was going to opt out and explore other options. Now, after an achilles injury, Durant may not have a choice but to opt in. Durant has until June 29th to opt into his player option for next year.
Opting into his player option for next season gives Durant more flexibility and security than opting out of it. If Durant were to opt out, he would have to be hopeful that a team would pay him max money to sit all of next season. If he were to opt in, the Warriors would have no choice but to pay him. Durant could then spend the 2019-2020 season rehabbing while he’s getting paid max money.
Options for the Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have their hands tied when it comes to Durant. If Durant picks up his player option, they will be paying him $31 million to rehab next season and he could leave in the summer of 2020. Now, the Warriors front office is probably excited by this opportunity. It gives them an extra year to show Durant through the rehab process, that they are the franchise that will take the best care of him personally, and put him in the best position to win. If Durant opts into his contract for next season, the Warriors will have a payroll of more than $120 million. The NBA salary cap for the 2019-2020 season is set at $109 million.
Golden State Warriors Roster Outlook for the 2019-2020 Season
Players under contract for Golden State (not including Durant) for the 2019-2020 season are Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Jacob Evans, Damian Jones, and Alfonzo McKinnie. Klay Thompson should be a priority. But if he decides he wants to take his talents somewhere else, and lead a team, the Warriors dynasty could be coming to an end. They do not own bird rights on DeMarcus Cousins. So they cannot go over the cap to extend him. They have to hope he signs for the mid-level exception or the veteran’s minimum.
Players the Golden State Warriors Could Target in Free Agency
In the unlikely scenario that Durant opts out of his contract, and Klay Thompson decides to head elsewhere, it will give the Warriors around $20 million in cap space to play with. Now, they could give all or most of that money to Cousins in order to bring him back, or they could try to sign a guy like Tobias Harris (although he could command max money), Julius Randle, or Bojan Bogdanovic. The question is, how do these three players fit in with the Warriors?
Harris is an excellent player. He will likely command a max contract or one that is very near that. The allure of playing with the Golden State Warriors could be enough to convince him to head west for a little bit less money, however. Harris would be an excellent fit in the Warriors small ball lineups. He is a very good shooter and nailed 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts this past season. He is also a solid rebounder as he averaged 7.9 for the season.
Randle had an excellent season for the New Orleans Pelicans. He averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game for the season. Randle would be a good fit as an undersized center for the Warriors. It would give them a starting lineup with five guys who could bring the ball up the floor as Randle is an excellent ball handler. He also improved his three-point shooting this season. He knocked in 34.4 percent of his threes, which is a number that players have to respect.
After Victor Oladipo went down for the season, many thought the Indiana Pacers season was over. Bogdanovic stepped up and helped lead the Pacers to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Over the final three months of the season, Bogdanovic put up 19.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. He did this while shooting an excellent 51.3 percent from the field and 41.8 percent from three. Bogdanovic would be an excellent fit with the Warriors due to his outstanding shooting ability.
Ripple Effect Across the League
Teams the Injury Effects
Not only does the Kevin Durant injury have major implications on the Golden State Warriors free agency plans, but it has major implications on the rest of the NBA also. Rumors were flying about where and who Kevin Durant would play with next season. The New York Knicks were the presumed favorites to land Durant. However, teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn Nets were rumored to be in contention also.
Players the Injury Effects
It also has an impact on a few players and where they could wind up. Kyrie Irving, long thought to be the new running mate for Durant, could change course and alter his plans due to the injury. Kawhi Leonard now likely vaults to the top available free agent spot. Durant’s teammate Klay Thompson now has a little more to think about. Kemba Walker hasn’t directly been linked to Durant, but the injury could also affect his decision.
New York Knicks and Kemba Walker
The New York Knicks are likely to have two max salary slots open this summer. For months the talk has been about Kyrie Irving and Durant teaming up in New York. Recently a new rumor has popped up. Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant are now reportedly the two players that Knicks’ brass wanted to pursue the most. Where do the Knicks go from here? Do they now swing for Leonard and Irving and forget about Durant? Do they swing for the fences and try to use the number three pick to land Anthony Davis? Options are aplenty for the Knicks and they have the money to make a move. It also opens up another interesting option for New York. If they can land Leonard or Davis via trade, they could make a run at Kemba Walker and bring him home, to New York.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers were reportedly among one of the suitors on Durant’s shortlist. The same can be said for Kawhi Leonard. Durant’s injury now pushes the Clippers timeline back a year if he was indeed the target. The Clippers surprised everyone and took the Warriors to six games in the Western Conference playoffs. A superstar could be all they need to get over the hump.
Brooklyn Nets and Kyrie Irving
The Brooklyn Nets are now rumored to be out in front for the services of Kyrie Irving. They, like everyone else involved in the NBA, are aware of the affinity that Irving and Durant have for each other. Durant undoubtedly would have been a top target of theirs. They also just made a move with the Atlanta Hawks to free up more cap space. The Nets have their own free agent all-star to worry about. D’Angelo Russell is set to hit restricted free agency. With Durant’s injury, do the Nets think an Irving and Russell backcourt could work? Or do they let Russell walk and hope Irving is an upgrade over Russell on a team that made it to the playoffs last season?
Perhaps the most interesting free agency storyline this could alter, is that of one of Durant’s current Warriors teammate, Klay Thompson. There were murmurs towards the end of the season that Thompson was tired of being the third wheel to Durant and Stephen Curry. Now that Durant is injured and unlikely to play next season, does it sway Thompson back to the Warriors where he can reclaim his number two spot in the hierarchy?
Thompson is not eligible for a supermax contract as he missed out on being selected to an All-NBA team, but the Warriors can offer him the most money. Will money and moving up from number three to number two in the offense sway, Thompson? The Warriors sure hope so as the success of their team in the 2019-2020 may hinge on his decision.
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