The Warriors won Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday night in Toronto, a major significance to those in the Bay Area and north of the border. But for front-offices executives on both coasts — and, really, for all markets in between — what mattered most during Monday’s action happened at the 9:46 mark of the second quarter.
Kevin Durant got hurt and, yes, it is an Achilles tendon injury. At 30 years old, Durant is not necessarily finished, even in a worst-case, torn-Achilles scenario. But his much-anticipated free agency, slated to begin at the end of the month, figures to be completely derailed because of the injury and it’s likely that Durant won’t play at all during the 2019-20 season.
A closer look at Kevin Durant's right leg injury: pic.twitter.com/XEHPIn9wnW— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 11, 2019
Should Kevin Durant Have Been Playing in Game 5?
There has been much criticism of the Warriors for allowing Durant to play at all in Game 5, suggestions that the team knew there was risk to Durant’s Achilles tendon—beyond the calf strain that had been reported—but caved in to pressure from fans and from Durant himself to allow him to play.
Even his mother, Wanda Durant, weighed in:
For ALL of you who question my son as a Man, question his Heart, question his Integrity and question his LOVE for the game of basketball, you DON’T know him. He has a heart of a true Warrior! This too shall pass. God Bless you ALL. pic.twitter.com/y0qcQ5Boga— Wanda Durant (@MamaDurant) June 11, 2019
The Warriors, though, could wind up paying a price for that gamble. Durant has a player option for next year that he would first have to decline before becoming a free agent. Once the injury is confirmed to keep him out for next year, Durant could simply opt into the final year of the deal and earn $31 million from the Warriors as he is rehabbing the Achilles.
Durant has a $31.5 million player’s option for next season — insurance against this kind of thing— Joe Vardon (@joevardon) June 11, 2019
That would send a sizable shockwave around the league, as teams have been calculating for months now on how best to pitch their franchise to Durant in free agency. And, while Durant’s health is the big concern, bettors who already have been speculating on Durant landing with one team or another and boosting that team’s championship chances are bitterly disappointed.
Durant’s Impact on Betting Markets
Around the NBA, the impact of Durant’s injury will be felt in a number of markets, most of which will see their 2019-20 future prospects suffer because their odds were inflated based on the mere possibility that Durant would sign there. Now, Durant is not likely to be playing anywhere next year. There are markets, though, that might actually see their prospects brighten on this dark day for Durant.
Let’s sort out which is which.
Teams Whose Odds Should Improve
Boston Celtics:It’s impossible to say just how focused Irving has been on playing with Durant but it was an enticement to go to a place like the Knicks or Nets. Now that Durant probably won’t be playing next season, Irving might have to rethink his status with the Celtics—and bettors might want to look at the Celtics’ championship chances in a brighter light.
It’s still Danny Ainge’s intention to re-sign Irving and trade for Anthony Davis. Irving is coming off a tumultuous year in Boston, one that Celtics executives had feared would push him out the TD Garden door. But without Durant and with the possibility of Davis still winding up in Boston, Irving could be in green next year with a revamped, veteran lineup.
Denver Nuggets:The Nuggets might well be one player away from truly being a contender, though they’ve been underwhelming on the odds board. They’re young and talented and GM Tim Connelly has shown a willingness to attempt bold moves that make the Nuggets a free-agency dark horse this summer.
Any way you look at it though, that player was not going to be Durant. The next best thing for the Nuggets, then, would be for Durant to sign with an Eastern Conference team and leave Denver, after a 54-win season, to make another run at being the best team in the West.
No one roots for an injury, of course, but for the Nuggets, having Durant out of the 2019-20 picture altogether—not with the Clippers or the Warriors—should be a big benefit as the team continues to build.
L.A. Clippers: The Clippers are in an excellent position this summer, with ample cap space, a good mix of young talent coming off a 48-win season, plus a quality owner and coach who have turned around what was long the league’s most downtrodden franchise.
They also had Hall of Famer Jerry West, a friend of Durant from his time with the Warriors, in the front office. West was to be the Clippers’ secret weapon in recruiting Durant, possibly to join him with Kawhi Leonard and/or Anthony Davis. The Clippers could still come out the winners of free agency this summer, but one of their big targets is off the board.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets, too, had an inkling of bringing together Irving and Durant, and dealt away two first-round draft picks to Atlanta to get the Hawks to absorb the contract of Allen Crabbe. That created enough space for two max free agents — Irving and Durant.
But the Nets do not necessarily need Durant to lure Irving to Brooklyn. They have a promising young team, a good coach and front office, and Irving is said to have interest in becoming a Net because he wants to play near his hometown in West Orange, N.J. Speculation has long held that if Irving left Boston without joining Durant it would be to go to the Nets.
Teams Most Hurt by Durant Injury
Golden State Warriors: Durant’s injury could be pretty painful to the Warriors’ accounting team — as well as to the roster in general. If he opts in at $31 million, and if the Warriors re-sign both Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, the payroll will be sitting at about $160 million for nine players. That is well over the league’s projected $132 million luxury-tax level.
The Warriors have been making the most of a weak bench for most of the year and the reserves badly need an upgrade. But the NBA limits teams’ spending once they’re over the tax line. That will hurt Golden State’s ability to add depth, especially when $31 million of that money is dead weight being paid to Durant.
New York Knicks: Hard to believe a 17-win team that missed out on the No. 1 pick (and No. 2 for that matter) and traded its best player midseason could rank fifth on a list of NBA title contenders.
But such was the heavy speculation that Durant and Celtics star Irving would join forces with the Knicks—reported as a done deal in some circles—that the odds went a bit haywire. After all, the Knicks ranked well ahead of the Raptors, who are one win from a championship, and the Nuggets, the West’s best young team.
It’s possible that Durant still winds up in New York, maybe this summer if he takes a gamble and becomes a free agent, or next summer if he opts in with the Warriors.
But his injury has punctured the (overblown, really) notion that Irving definitely would join Durant and widened the possibility that the Knicks could come out of this summer having created a swath of cap space but not finding any star players willing to take their money.