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Impact of Kevin Durant’s injury will be immeasurable

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Speedy recovery, Kevin.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

All signs point to a torn Achilles tendon for the Warriors Kevin Durant, after he left the court in the second quarter of last night’s NBA Finals game. It’s hard to overstate the implications of this injury, both for Durant and for the league as a whole.

As has been widely and depressingly noted, it’s almost impossible for NBA players to return to their pre-Achilles injury level of play. Blazers fans know this implicitly after watching Arvydas Sabonis hobble up and down the court for years and seeing the impact the injury had on Wes Matthews. Dominique Wilkins has been the only exception to this rule in the history of the NBA. Durant has a long road ahead and deserves all the sympathy we can muster.

As far as the league goes, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said last night “The entire NBA just changed.” Only three other MVP-caliber players (that I can think of, at least) have been hit with injuries during their prime that fundamentally altered the rest of their careers in a single night — Derrick Rose, Bernard King, and Bill Walton — so this is already an exceedingly rare event. Durant also has a $31 million player option this summer and can be offered a supermax by any team in the league, creating an unprecedented free agent situation.

Before the injury, Durant would have joined Kawhi Leonard as one of the two most sought after free agents of the summer. Durant’s decision on whether or not to take the option year will now have a profound impact with ripple effects that could reach every team in the NBA.

Hypothetical examples:

  • Maybe LeBron James and the Lakers prioritize a trade for Anthony Davis instead of signing Durant, leaving a third party with the pieces for a consolidation trade but nobody to trade for.
  • Or maybe the Lakers sign Kawhi now, and the Clippers are left holding their bag of money.
  • Maybe the Knicks swoop in and offer Durant a deal despite his uncertain future, eschewing Kyrie Irving or someone else, knowing that Durant’s year of rehab will help them secure a high draft pick in the coveted 2020 class.
  • Mabe an additional max salary of cap space around the league motivates a general manager to unexpectedly accept bloated expiring contracts — anyone know of a team who might benefit from additional salary dump options?

And those scenarios don’t even touch on the impact to the Warriors. Durant’s player option for next season, combined with a presumed maximum contract for Klay Thompson, will push the Warriors salary obligations north of $150 million. And that’s before they fill out their roster making offers to players like Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell. Here’s a plausible scenario that puts the Warriors at over $160 million to retain Thompson with Durant for the 2019-20 season.

The Warriors will face the dreaded repeater tax so a $160 million payroll would generate a $75 million luxury tax bill (assumes a $138 million luxury tax — these are rough approximations). In other words, Durant exercising his player option will cost Golden State over $106 million in tax and salary.

$106 million for a player who possibly won’t play a minute of the season.

Of course Durant just irrevocably altered his career for the team and played a key role in two championships, so the financial fallout absolutely should not be held against him if he does exercise the option. But it doesn’t change the reality that the Warriors will suffer one of the stiffest financial penalties in NBA history if they want to keep contending for championships.