It seemed like it was meant to be.
Kevin Durant was thrashing the Raptors. He had returned just in the nick of time, with his team down 3-1 amid the worst NBA Finals performance of their dynastic five-year run. He was Golden State’s warrior in shining armor, the most efficient NBA Finals scorer ever, here to save the day.
Fourteen game minutes later, the story turned into a disaster. Durant’s calf injury worsened to an Achilles injury, a diagnosis with serious implications for the rest of his career. An MRI confirmed the worst-case scenario: Durant ruptured his Achilles, just before entering an offseason as the most coveted free agent in a star-stacked market.
Head coach Steve Kerr told reporters the decision to play was made by Durant, his agent Rich Kleinman, the Warriors’ medical staff and a second opinion medical. It’s clear now that decision was made far too soon, though Kerr said he’d do it again in a heartbeat:
“Would we go back and do it over again? Damn right,” Kerr said, according to The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver. “Our feeling was the worst thing he could do was reinjure the calf. The Achilles came as a complete shock.”
Those who argued Durant had everything to gain and nothing to lose by returning from injury early got it completely wrong. Kevin Durant paid the ultimate sacrifice. The injury could cost him all of next season, and years off the tail end of his prime.
Durant has a saving grace: he can delay his free agency by exercising the player option on the second year of his contract. The option is scheduled to pay him $31.5 million, only $1.2 million short of what he’d earn in Year 1 on a new max contract anywhere else. Another saving grace: his transcendent talent, which reportedly will draw max contract interest from multiple teams, regardless of his injury.