Kevin Durant’s injury has suddenly thrown a wrench into what was shaping up to be the biggest summer in the NBA in years.
Durant on Wednesday confirmed league-wide fears by announcing he had surgery on his ruptured Achilles tendon, suffered during his ill-fated Game 5 return to the NBA Finals. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has written that Durant will miss the 2019-20 season, though an exact timetable for his return hasn’t been made clear.
An injury to the most coveted free agent in a summer full of them has caused ripple effects throughout the league.
How do teams proceed with Durant perhaps shelved for a year and, based on history of torn Achilles, unlikely to be the same player when he returns?
Will the Lakers go all-in for Anthony Davis?
ESPN on Wednesday reported that the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics each were engaged with the New Orleans Pelicans on trade talks for Anthony Davis.
According to ESPN, the Lakers seem to have taken the lead in discussions, with an offer that included Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and the fourth pick in the 2019 NBA draft. That pick may be used in a separate deal to net another player to send to the Pelicans.
According to both ESPN and The Los Angeles Times, the Lakers have not included third-year forward Kyle Kuzma in discussions, hoping to hang onto the young, versatile scorer as a piece to keep around a LeBron James-Davis duo.
Most in the NBA world feel certain that Kuzma won’t become a sticking-point in these discussions. With James turning 35 in December, the Lakers have a small window to put a championship contender around him. If Kuzma is all that is standing in the way of acquiring Davis, he’ll likely be added to the deal.
Though the Lakers seem hesitant to go all-in at the moment (it’s unclear if they have also added third-year guard Josh Hart or future draft picks into their offer), they made eventually decide to because Durant is injured.
Whether Durant stays with the Warriors this summer or goes to another team, the Western Conference suddenly looks wide open. The Durant-less Warriors have looked dynamic at times this postseason, but could this current squad, without any major offseason additions, play at a championship rate for 82 games next year?
Knowing it could be their best chance to land a star player, in a West without a super-power, could convince the Lakers to go all-in.
Does Durant’s injury affect Kyrie Irving’s decision and an Anthony Davis trade?
The Celtics are in a difficult position with Davis.
Long believed to be the team that can offer the best package for the Pelicans superstar, the Celtics face so much uncertainty this offseason that they may not be able to risk a trade.
Kyrie Irving is a free agent and may leave the team. To land Davis, the Celtics may have to give up young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, plus future draft picks. With Davis hitting free agency in 2020 — and his agent Rich Paul flatly telling Sports Illustrated that Davis won’t re-sign in Boston — the Celtics could end up mortgaging their future for one year of Davis.
But the Durant injury could change things with Irving. Irving and Durant have been linked in free agency all season long, with rumors suggesting they could partner up on the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets still appear to be the favorites to land Irving, and Irving is reportedly dropping his longtime agent to sign with Roc Nation — an agency with ties to the Nets.
However, will Irving’s decision in free agency be changed by Durant’s injury? Not only would he potentially have to wait one year to play with Durant if they teamed up, there is no certainty that Durant will be the same player when he returns.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Celtics still believe that Davis could be their best chance at re-signing Irving. Teaming up Irving and Davis, even if it costs the Celtics many of their young role players, could give the Celtics a shot at winning the East, particularly with the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers facing uncertain futures themselves.
If Irving doesn’t feel that teaming up with Durant is viable, the Celtics could go all-in to land Davis in hopes that it sways Irving’s decision.
Where do the Knicks go from here?
The New York Knicks’ grand plans for 2019 suddenly seem in jeopardy. They didn’t land the No. 1 pick, and now the two stars who once seemed so certain to join them may not be come at all.
Several reports have indicated that the Knicks may still be willing to offer Durant a max contract in free agency. But will anyone join Durant (who would also have to take a pay cut to join the Knicks)?
As noted, Irving may be more hesitant to join Durant following the injury. SNY’s Ian Begley reported that the Knicks intend to pursue Leonard in free agency, But most indications are they would be third in that race, behind the Raptors and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Kemba Walker has stated his desire to stay in Charlotte. Klay Thompson is presumed to re-sign with the Warriors. It’s unclear what Jimmy Butler intends to do in free agency.
According to Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman, the Knicks are said to prefer to continue a slow, patient rebuild, acquiring young players, over maxing out some of the second-tier stars this summer like Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, and Nikola Vucevic.
Begley noted on SNY that if the Knicks can still land Durant, it may be an opportunity for them to continue growing their young core while Durant rehabs. It would hardly make for the splashy 2019-20 season so many envisioned for the Knicks just months ago.
Would the Knicks instead look to trade for Davis, hoping he could attract another (healthy) star free agent? Begley reported that some within the Knicks are hesitant to give up too many young assets for Davis, while The New York Post’s Marc Berman reported that the Pelicans are not as interested in the Knicks’ young assets.
Durant’s injury may change the Knicks’ feelings on that front. If they feel they won’t land any of the top free agents, perhaps they’ll go harder after Davis to get the star player they’ve been looking for. Or perhaps, in lieu of landing anyone this offseason, they’ll continue to collect assets, rolling over their cap space and waiting until the next star player becomes available.
One misstep from Durant may have altered the entire league and the futures of so many teams and players.