By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — NBA Free Agency was already going to be a wild roller coaster ride this summer. But now a lot of the hoopla is hanging on the results of an MRI.
The first big dip of the NBA’s summer extravaganza is an unfortunate one, as Kevin Durant left Monday night’s Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a likely torn Achilles. The NBA world (but mostly the New York Knicks) is awaiting a Tuesday MRI on Durant, who was set to be the most sought-after free agent on the open market come July 1.
A torn Achilles would put a big damper on that, and will likely change the landscape of the NBA this summer. If Durant did suffer a torn Achilles, which usually carries a 9-12 month recovery, chances are he won’t be opting out of his contract with the Warriors, which will pay him $35.1 million for the 2019-20 season. Not a bad paycheck for someone who may not play next season.
Even if Durant does opt out, teams may be a little wary of committing $164 million over four years to a 30-year-old coming off such a devastating injury, especially knowing that he may not play all of next season. So instead of 30 teams lining up to pay Durant, maybe only 27 will. If he opts out and re-signs with the Warriors, Durant can receive a five-year deal worth as much as $221 million. But the Warriors also have Klay Thompson hitting the open market, and he too is going to ask for a monster contract. Opting in will likely be the best decision for an injured Durant.
Durant’s injury will be felt by other free agents, some of whom were being paired with the Golden State star– whether they wanted to or not. That Durant-Kyrie Irving duo expected to land with one of the New York teams is probably off the table (though some wonder if it ever truly had a chance of happening). If anyone would invest big money on a player who can’t play next season, it would be that franchise.
Teams have spent the last season clearing cap space to make a run at Durant, and that could all be for naught when free agency rolls around at the start of July. But all that cap space will just get spent on other available stars, from Kyrie to Kawhi Leonard to Jimmy Butler to Kemba Walker. They’re all going to get paid, and will likely get even more attention on the open market.
Durant’s injury subtracts the biggest star from a crowded free agent market this summer, and it certainly takes away a handful of interesting scenarios for fan bases and rumor mongers to dream about over the next few weeks. But NBA free agency will survive, and it will be as wild as ever, with or without Durant. The landscape will change a bit, but the madness will remain.