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Kevin Durant will dictate NBA free agency even if he can't play much next season

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Tim Reynolds, Press Association

Wednesday 12 June 2019 10:27, UK

Kevin Durant leaves the court after suffering an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals 2:44
The GameTime crew discuss how the Achilles injury suffered by Kevin Durant in Game 5 of the NBA Finals effects free agency

Kevin Durant's Achilles injury means he probably won't play much next season but the Golden State superstar will still dictate how the free-agency dominoes fall this summer.

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This was already going to be a summer filled with fireworks in the NBA.

Nothing has changed.

Kevin Durant's Achilles injury, the severity of which isn't yet confirmed, means he probably won't be able to play much - if at all - next season. But this is a testament to how much he overshadows much of the NBA landscape: Durant will still likely dictate how the free-agency dominoes fall this summer.

Kevin Durant pictured after aggravating a lower leg injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals 1:18
Kevin Durant left Game 5 of the NBA Finals three minutes into the second quarter after suffering an Achilles injury

Durant could exercise his $31.5m player option and stay with the Warriors, and that's likely going to be his worst-case financial scenario. He could opt out and sign a longer deal to stay in the Bay. Or he could opt out, sign elsewhere and start collecting massive checks from either the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Clippers or someone else.

Kyrie Irving's decision could hinge on what Durant does. Kawhi Leonard's decision could be affected by what Durant does. How the Knicks, Nets, Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks and all the other teams who have cap space will start spending their money on June 30.

Kevin Durant is helped to his feet by team-mates Kaly Thompson and Quinn Cook
Image: Kevin Durant is helped to his feet by team-mates Kaly Thompson and Quinn Cook

It all will be determined, at least on some level, by what Durant does.

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If he stays in Golden State, that's more money for everyone else. If he hits the open market, it'll be about which team wants to gamble.

Kevin Durant is helped from the court after suffering an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals
Image: Kevin Durant is helped from the court after suffering an Achilles injury in Game 5 of the NBA Finals

Here's a tip to those teams that wanted Durant before he got hurt again in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.

If the opportunity presents itself, sign him.

Free agency usually isn't about just one year. It's about the long haul. Durant is only 30 years old. He is not a high-flyer who plays above the rim all the time. He is not a plodding big man. He is not someone with a lot of grey in the goatee.

Durant is a world-class scorer and jump-shooter in his prime. A year from now, if the recovery from the Achilles injury indeed takes that long, he'll be far from over the hill.

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"This is a devastating injury for a basketball player, but Durant can return to be the same or very close," Dr David Chao, a longtime NFL team physician, practicing orthopedic surgeon and now a sports medical analyst with a large Twitter following wrote Tuesday. "This does not mark his downfall as an elite player."

In the short term, it just means Durant's NBA Finals are over. Game 6 is Thursday night, and the Warriors trail the Toronto Raptors 3-2 in the title series.

In the long term, it might mean so much more including the possibility that his time playing for Golden State is over.

Draymond Green reacts to the Raptors fans during the Warriors Game 5 win 2:33
Draymond Green says the Toronto Raptors fans were 'classless' in cheering Kevin Durant's injury and subsequent exit from Game 5

Achilles recoveries for basketball players have typically taken about a full year. Even if it turns out to be a partial tear, it's still a tear. Some team was going to pay Durant a lot of money in 2019-20 and some team still will, probably without the immediate on-court services of perhaps the best player in the world in return.

The first decision is the medical course of action.

The financial course of action will be decided soon after.

All will not be lost next season for the team that has Durant on its roster. That team will apply for, and get, a disabled player exception that will allow them to sign someone else for probably about $9m and not have that count toward the team's cap.

Kevin Durant takes on Patrick Beverley in the Warriors' Game 6 win over the Clippers 1:38
Kevin Durant poured in 50 points to lead the Golden State Warriors to a series-clinching 129-110 Game 6 win over the Los Angeles Clippers

That player won't be of Durant's calibre, because so few players are. But a year or so later, the team would have Durant.

There is risk with any signing. And signing any player who will command so much of a team's salary cap while facing a grueling rehab would seem particularly risky.

"He's going to come back stronger though," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "That's the kind of fighter he is."

Kevin Durant throws down a two-handed dunk in the Warriors' Game 2 win against the Rockets 1:39
Kevin Durant scored a team-high 29 points to lead the Golden State Warriors to a 115-109 win over the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of their Western Conference semi-final series

The Nets swung a trade earlier this month to clear enough cap space for two max contracts this summer and there is no doubt that they would love Durant to take one of those spots, possibly alongside Irving.

The Knicks have been mentioned as a hopeful in the Durant sweepstakes for months. The Clippers were expected to make a pitch for him as well. The Warriors surely want to keep him.

The chatter about Durant's injury indicates it's all a mystery now, although it really shouldn't be.

Kevin Durant 0:28
Warriors forward Kevin Durant limped off the court due to a right calf strain during the Golden State's game against the Houston Rockets

Players have made comebacks from Achilles surgery, with relative levels of success.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant, and Rudy Gay all came back; Cousins hasn't regained past form yet. Dominique Wilkins had an Achilles tear happen to him at the peak of his career and he arguably was good as ever afterward.

Elton Brand, now leading the Philadelphia 76ers' front office, had it as a player and said he was never the same. Christian Laettner went from a star to a role player when his Achilles ripped.

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"I've been there," 15-time golf major winner Tiger Woods said Tuesday at the US Open. "I've had it to my own Achilles. I've had it to my own back. I know what it feels like. It's an awful feeling. And no one can help you. That's the hard part."

Woods fought his way back toward the top of his sport and is the reigning Masters champion.

Durant isn't going to let an Achilles injury end his reign as one of the game's best. Teams would be foolish to think otherwise.

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