Kevin Durant has a long, long way to go before he’s back on an NBA floor, and likely has far further to go before he’s anything like the player he was before he ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The circumstances that led to the catastrophic injury were highly suspect, but whether because he believes it or because he needs to believe it, Durant now says the Warriors are not to blame for the way the whole thing went down.
That’s the big takeaway from an interview Durant granted to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Going back at least to his decision to join the Warriors, Durant has been almost reflexively defiant toward any public perception that does not amount to Kevin Durant is a swell guy whose decisions are wise and good, seemingly out of an impulse to just be in control of every facet of his story at all times. The popular perception is that the Warriors mishandled Durant’s injury by allowing him to play when his recently injured leg was still in a vulnerable condition, and so of course here is Durant to dismissively wave that away in favor of, literally, “shit happens”:
Did the Warriors mishandle the injury?
Durant slowly straightened up with a perplexed expression on his face.
“Hell, no. How can you blame [the Warriors]? Hell, no,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I heard the Warriors pressured me into getting back. Nobody never said a word to me during rehab as I was coming back. It was only me and [director of sports medicine and performance] Rick [Celebrini] working out every day. Right when the series started, I targeted Game 5. Hell, nah. It just happened. It’s basketball. S—- happens. Nobody was responsible for it. It was just the game. We just need to move on from that s—- because I’m going to be back playing.”
It’s important to note that the Warriors don’t need to have pressured Durant in order to have mishandled his recovery. If they misdiagnosed the calf injury he suffered in the second round, if they underestimated the vulnerability of his lower leg after just over a month of rehabilitation, if they were too confident in Durant’s general game-readiness or too willing to be swayed by his determination to take the floor for Game 5, they still bear enormous responsibility for what happened. The reason to have a medical staff (at least in theory) is to have people in the building whose job it is to evaluate a player’s health apart from competitive concerns, and as Bob Myers was at pains to insist in the immediate aftermath of Durant’s Achilles rupture, that apparatus—the “experts, multiple MRIs, multiple doctors”—was heavily consulted before the decision was made to put Durant back on the court.
The only way to shift all blame away from the Warriors, as Durant at least appears to be doing, is to insist that the calf injury and the Achilles injury are completely unrelated, that the Achilles injury really was just basketball shit happening. That’s extremely hard to believe, but if Durant is disinclined to pursue the matter, it ultimately doesn’t make too much of a difference to what comes next for him, and you can see why he might prefer to have the conversation over and completely behind him. This is certainly as direct a path to that outcome as he’s likely to find. As for whether what happened in Game 5 had anything to do with his decision to leave the Warriors, Durant gives the somewhat suspect explanation that the move to Brooklyn was more about the Nets than it was about anything else, including his friendship with Kyrie Irving:
Three straight Finals appearances, two Finals MVPs and a starting five that could rival any in history — while playing in one of the league’s more attractive cities — left many within the organization wondering why Durant wanted to leave.
“Because I wanted to,” Durant said. “The basketball was appealing.”
“If I was leaving the Warriors, it was always going to be for the Nets,” Durant said. “They got the pieces and a creative front office. I just like what they were building.”
“People see friendship as the way guys are teaming up. There’s nothing wrong with people speculating. That’s just what it is, but we’re just good friends no matter what. We didn’t have to play together. It wasn’t necessary. But, we were friends before anything, and we just happened to want to hoop together. But it wasn’t a thing we planned. It just came together.”
If it’s nothing the Warriors did, and it wasn’t necessarily the opportunity to play with Kyrie, it’s silly to look at “the pieces and [the] creative front office” of the Nets as in any way comparable to those of the Warriors, who have several future Hall of Famers, a proven championship core, and one of the most nimble and aggressive front offices in basketball. Once again, this has the reek of Durant just deciding what he wants to be true and sneeringly insisting upon it, while refusing to acknowledge its inconsistencies, or to even so much as half-assedly obscure them. Durant insists everything is good between him and the Warriors—even Draymond Green—and that he didn’t make his decision to join the Nets until literally June 30, and just expects everyone to accept that a 42-win Eastern Conference also-ran has “the pieces” that this era’s dynasty does not.
None of this especially matters in any larger sense, except that it would be illuminating to have a more thoughtful and honest account of what exactly happened to his leg, and what actually motivated him to leave the most loaded position in all of basketball. Durant doesn’t owe anybody that, but he will bitch endlessly about narratives and outside agendas—he does it again in this very interview, about speculation that he would join the Knicks this summer—while passing off what he prefers the narrative to be as the only version not worthy of outright hostility. It’s a really tiresome act! It’s fine to want to play with your pal in a new city; it’s fine to want a change of scenery after three years of sharing a pressure-packed environment with teammates who maybe don’t believe they fully need you; it’s fine to have soured on your former employer after they botched the handling of an injury. It’s also fine to do the Kawhi Leonard thing and just not have very much to say.
The good news for Durant is, the injury—which for many 30-year-old NBA players would be a career-ender—will cost him nothing in terms of long-term security. He’ll spend all of next season rehabilitating, and will have made $37 million off the Nets before he plays a single minute in a Brooklyn uniform. From that position, it’s a hell of a lot easier to big-up the Nets and treat what happened with the Warriors as just water under the bridge. But as with most of Durant says publicly, this has more than a hint of the cheesebutt.