Had Kevin Durant never suffered that devastating Achilles injury, would his 2019 free agency decision have played out any differently?
Kevin Durant started free agency off with a bang by announcing the intent to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. He will join on a four-year deal worth $164 million, pairing alongside Kyrie Irving in a move that, should he make a near full recovery, will have the Nets contending for a championship in the near future.
The move didn’t come as a total shock. The Nets have spent the last few seasons establishing themselves as a high-end organization from the top down and set themselves up with two max contract slots. However, given how different this decision differs from numerous reports, it was a bit surprising, to say the least.
Throughout the 2018-19 season, KD seemed destined to become a member of the New York Knicks come June 30. This was no pipe dream from desperate fans. Players and executives thought it. Prominent media members such as Colin Cowherd and Stephen A. Smith were told as much. Barring any unforeseen event, it looked as though Durant would don the blue and orange.
We all know what happened next. Durant would make a month-long return from a calf injury in Game 5 of the Finals, only to rupture his right Achilles tendon. It was an injury that may change the course of the NBA, maybe no team more so than for a long-suffering franchise so close to salvation.
There’s a reason Brooklyn only recently came into the picture as a realistic option for Durant and Kyrie to settle in. KD was looking for the ultimate play to validate his legacy, which meant heading to Madison Square Garden and bringing that historic organization its first championship in over 40 years.
It was no secret the two were looking to team up upon becoming free agents. As the far superior player, Durant had a level of leverage that helped dictate that decision in his favor, even if it meant Irving would be forced to compromise. It’s why the two appeared a lock for the Big Apple, because nothing seemed capable of standing in their way.
Whatever leg up Durant had in the decision-making process completely evaporated following the Achilles tear. After asserting himself as arguably the best player in the world, the injury turned him into a wounded soldier in need of rescuing.
Durant may have wanted to play with Kyrie, but he was more than willing to pair with someone else if that wasn’t in the cards or even strike out on his own in the Big Apple. He was just that good, enough for 50 wins on just about any team and the ultimate recruiting chip.
Now, he’ll be 32 years old when he returns to the court coming off one of the worst injuries in sports. His ability to singlehandedly carry a team went sideways, along with any possibility of recruiting another superstar down the line. This forced him to find shelter in the arms of Irving, who he couldn’t now refuse in his desire to land in Brooklyn for fear of being left out in the cold.
At the end of the day, all the talk about what both players wanted could’ve been complete speculation. Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported Kyrie and KD had veered off from joining the Knicks well before the playoffs began, making the ramifications of Durant’s injury slim to none for New York.
It’s hard to believe, though, that all the rumors and reports sprinkled throughout the year linking the two sides were completely false. Durant wanted to cement his status among the all-time greats, but became unable to bring along the prerequisite co-star necessary to compete at a high level, leading him to the only star who would still take him.
Give credit to the Nets for putting themselves in an attractive position after years spent rebounding from that awful draft-day trade in 2013. Just don’t give them 100 percent of it, not when their marquee signee was forced to re-evaluate his future through the lens of a potentially career-altering injury.