Unquestioned top five player in the NBA Kevin Durant was playing at that elite level prior to straining his right calf in the Western Conference Semi Finals against the Houston Rockets. The ongoing drama surrounding whether or not Durant could or even should play in the 2019 NBA Finals lingered game by game before his brief return in Game 5.
Durant appeared in Game 5 despite having not played in a game setting for over a month. KD barely practiced against G League level talent before being given the go ahead by team doctors to play with his nagging injury. Durant did provide a glimmer of hope to the Warriors, helping them win Game 5. But tearing his Achilles tendon in the process risks much more than missing all of next season.
Even if the decision to play was Durant's own, the Warrior's medical team, his teammates, coaches, agent, and family should have advised him not to play in this series.
Kevin Durant going into the NBA Finals was facing a difficult situation. Because of the substantial talent already around him in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and others, if Golden State wins without him, than he's labeled as a non-essential element to an all-time team. If he chose to sit out and recover for next season, he's seen as a player who quit on his team when they needed him most being down 3-1 against Toronto.
But for a player of Kevin Durant's talent, it makes absolutely no sense to risk all of next season and a possible decline in his overall ability over the next several years for at most three games. This was a selfish move by an organization that was backed into a corner, needing an all-timer like Durant to carry them to a third straight title.
Kawhi Leonard, the player opposite of Durant for a portion of Game 5 was torched by media and the fans as a selfish player for missing most of all last season before being moved to the Raptors. But because of that rest, allowing his body to heal, he returned to lead Toronto to their first title, cementing himself as arguably the best player in the world.
Kevin Durant's own teammate DeMarcus Cousins was brought in by Golden State as another luxury piece and was given most of the season to recover from his own Achilles tear the previous year. The team doctors for Golden State should have understood better than most than the severity of this type of injury.
It's an injury that takes time and patience to heal. It's an injury that if not treated properly can cost players not just time but have a negative impact on their overall playing ability even further down the line. Plus, if DeMarcus Cousins from this season is any indication, Durant could see a real decline in the consistent impact he's provided teams throughout his career.
An Achilles injury like this one was also a direct result of an already strained calf. When the body suffers a trauma of some kind like a calf strain, it compensates other components to keep moving without too much issue.
Tight hamstrings can lead to a strained calf because of the additional pressure that it puts on other muscle groups to stay functional. A person who deals with one leg being slightly shorter than the other, risks the possibility of hip problems from bad body alignment. Both of these are other examples of how one issue can be compounded by the body compensating for an original problem. The physical wear and tear of a sport like basketball becomes obvious too in the later stages of runs like the one experienced by Golden State over the last five years.
Klay Thompson also tore the ACL in his left knee during the closing minutes of Game 6, setting him up to miss most if not all of next season as well. As a player on the verge of entering free agency, it could lessen Thompson's value to possible suitors next year. These type of injuries are a negative consequence though to Golden State's success with them playing 20 or more additional games a year than the rest of the NBA.
It's understandable too why Durant would want to play in this year's NBA Finals. Durant would return to a team facing a 3-1 deficit and be the primary reason for any resurgence in winning a third straight title. Despite the substantial talent Golden State has had at their disposal the last five seasons, Kevin Durant was their cheat code. The player that made their team unfair to match up against the past two plus seasons.
If Durant was able to come back against Toronto and will the Warriors to a title, he would surely solidify himself as the most valuable Warrior, while maintaining his title as the best basketball player in the world.
Durant would continue to build his legacy too as a player who carried an all-time team to three straight titles in a modern-day NBA with far better talent and competition than in years past. It's also worth mentioning that this kind of accomplishment would give Durant incredible leverage as a player bound for free agency this off-season, looking to cash in on a tremendous fortune with a team very soon.
Even with this injury, Kevin Durant will be offered a max deal by teams in search of his services if he opts out. Teams are willing to wait for a player like Durant to get well because of just how talented he is as a player. Durant is also guaranteed over $31 million next season by just choosing to stay with Golden State. Financially, Durant should already be set with the money he has made so far in a lucrative career. As much sympathy as there can be for athletes who get injured, their shouldn't be much for the kind of guaranteed cash they make whether they play or not.
But an injury like this one could have been prevented if Golden State as an organization wasn't selfishly pressuring for Durant's return. It may have been KD's decision to return, but Golden State's anxiety to win three games put an all-time great player's long term health at risk, costing him at the very least all of next season.
It's possible Durant will come back and be as effective as he was prior to getting hurt. But any injury and surgery is a trauma to the body, even to a finely tuned athlete like Durant. The NBA and it's fans better hope that this short-term decision doesn't have a much more costly impact in the long-term toward the league's success.
Jimmy Kennedy, who believes Kevin Durant should have never played in the 2019 NBA Finals, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org