I’m not an internet doctor; I can’t tell you if the Warriors should panic. But I’ll tell you when they’ll know if they should. Later today, Golden State will publicly announce the results of the MRI Kevin Durant underwent last night on his injured knee.
Durant limped off the court just two minutes into the Warriors’ eventual loss to Washington, after having his knee rolled up on by Zaza Pachulia.
(This could not possibly be less important, but this was Durant’s first game without scoring double digits since 2009).
The locker room after the game was not a happy place:
It’s easy to speculate, to play what-if with various potential injuries and severities, and their respective recovery times. I’ve seen just one sourced report, and it’s about as tentative and as thirdhand as can be, but it’s still a window into what those who might know something are expecting. From Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo:
[T]eam officials and members of Durant’s inner circle were expressing fear early Wednesday morning that the severity of Durant’s injury could preclude a return to the Warriors lineup before the start of the Western Conference playoffs in six weeks, league sources told The Vertical.
Some close to Durant feared the damage could sideline him even longer, league sources said.
It comes down to this: If the recovery is a matter of weeks, the Warriors would have Durant back for the postseason. If it’s more than three months, they won’t have him again this season, no matter how deep they go in the playoffs.
Golden State is already planning for Durant’s absence. Late last night they signed Matt Barnes, who spent most the season with Sacramento before being released to make room after the DeMarcus Cousins trade. Barnes joins Andre Iguodala as the only true small forwards on the roster, and he’s now a much more pressing need than the third PG they hoped to sign—Jose Calderon will now not join the team, with Barnes taking up the last roster spot.
This will be a real test of the Warriors’ flexibility, and of their complementary roster construction outside of their four superstars—including significant responsibilities for some players who weren’t here for last season’s finals run.
You’ll see Barnes, and you’ll see Iguodala, who the Warriors trust completely but who is generally more effective off the bench. You’ll probably see Draymond Green occasionally slide down to play the three, a luxury Golden State has because they’re replete with big men. That means more David West and more JaVale McGee, both offseason additions. You may even see more of Kevon Looney, a second-year PF who missed most of last season with injury, and more of rookie Pat McCaw, a shooting guard who’s filled in for Durant at SF before.
It’s striking how disruptive to the rotation would be the loss of Durant, the team’s most consistent and dependable player this year, but the Warriors do have options. A very big question is which of the many permutations is the most effective option. At least Golden State has time and space—22 games before the playoffs, and a four-game lead in the west—to figure it out. If need be, of course. And I can think of 28 or 29 other teams that would kill to have a healthy nucleus of just Curry, Thompson, and Green.
No one can replace Kevin Durant. But there has probably never been a team in NBA history that’s better equipped to win without him.