By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
All winning comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is pretty expensive.
The Golden State Warriors have payed a heavy price throughout the 2019 playoffs thanks to health issues among most of its core players, including Kevin Looney, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins. But that price got that much more steep with Kevin Durant’s torn Achilles met the team at the brink of elimination in Game 5 of the NBA Finals Monday night.
Playing an unhealthy Durant in the Finals was already a dangerous risk, but his willingness to help pay the cost by sacrificing his body shows his true unwavering character as a player and teammate, and now the future of the league could be altered in ways that not many people expected, especially with a league full of free agents waiting to see how Durant’s summer decision could impact their future decisions.
One of the most anticipated free agency periods ever lurks around the corner and the centerpiece of the dealing period is now officially dealing with an injury that could take up to a year to fully heal.
Whereas prior to the injury Durant seemed destined to do only one thing — opt out his final year with the Warriors and hit free agency once again — Durant’s options post-injury have opened up in ways many of us could not have expected, while creating an urgency for others such as Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving to step up and set the tone for the 2019 market instead of waiting on Durant to be the first big money domino to fall.
No matter what, Durant is in line to get a max-contract this summer, but he has to go to a team that is most likely set with another superstar to play with when he returns. And ultimately, barring how other free agents fall onto their predicted teams, the NBA can benefit from whatever decision Durant makes. Here is a list of options Durant needs to really consider come June 30 at 6 pm (in no particular order).
Return to the Warriors – Rumors have long had Durant leaving the Warriors dynasty since the beginning of the 2018-19 season. If he already has made the decision to leave, he should re-consider and think more about opting back into into his current deal for one last season in the Bay while rehabbing for a return in 2020.
Achilles injuries are hard injuries to fully come back from, but if the Warriors lose this Finals series, it could motivate the Warriors to put together one more all-out effort to win a championship with the current Dubs. Barring everyone returning to the team and the success of Durant’s rehab and estimated return date, he could actually play for the Warriors in the 2020 Finals. History is what makes the league great, and a comeback story that culminates in a championship would benefit the league and the legacies of Durant and the current Warriors tremendously.
Go to the Nets/Clippers – In a previous column, I mentioned that Durant and Irving should not overlook what the second tier teams have to offer. That being said, both the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers have a very high chance of fulfilling what Durant needs to furthermore establish his championship legacy: provide an opportunity to play with another superstar (most likely his good friend Kyrie Irving or potentially even Kawhi Leonard) long-term while getting a max contract, add/revise the already established winning culture and bring a future championship to a championship-less franchise.
New York reportedly seems to be the big-city market that Durant is already looking to tap into long-term on the court, more specifically with the Knicks, but with the status of his health paired with the lack of future free agents considering the Knicks up front and potential free agents unwilling to possibly wait for Durant to get healthy/back to his normal self on the court (which can take a year or two), a Knicks transition may not be as smooth as Durant wants or needs.
We also cannot overlook the fact that according to SNY’s Ian Begley, the Knicks are losing the Anthony Davis trade war and are skeptical of selling the whole farm for the New Orleans Pelican’s star. Durant playing all by himself on a young roster would not bring the Knicks a championship compared to the Nets’ roster hat can also include Irving.
Elevating a second-tier franchise like the Nets and Clippers gives these teams a chance to compete against the crosstown powerhouses for championships. This would be a huge win for the NBA, shifting the balance of power in the already strong Western Conference while also elevating a rising Eastern Conference.
Go to the Lakers – The Lakers have been reportedly a team that is also struggling to make itself a preferred destination for top-end free agents.
However, with reports stating that the Lakers could lock up a deal to bring in Anthony Davis as early as this weekend, a pairing of a healthy James and Davis could be quite a draw in both the present and long-term, making the Lakers less dependent on top talent to round up their roster in what will be a pressurized ’19-20 season. LA will also be in a better position to consider other options, such as a delayed debut of Durant in the Purple and Gold.
Creating a 3-headed monster of Durant, James and Davis could increase Durant’s chances of winning multiple championships for one of the most historical franchises in pro sports, he’d be on another super team and he’d have increased glory afforded him when James leaves the scene. Durant can also fulfill his obligation of getting a max-contract without pressure of making a return to the court right away with a team that will have money and be more than willing to spend it.
We also have to keep in mind that due to Durant’s injury, it could potentially open the door for Irving to switch gears and join LeBron and Davis in LA, although that scenario is seeming more and more unlikely with Irving showing more signs of a mutual interest to play for the Nets, who certainly want him.
It can’t be argued that the NBA is better as a whole when the Lakers are in the discussion among the best in the league. Durant and/or Irving going to the Lakers would help make that a reality once again.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media