Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers spoke at the postgame podium Monday night following his team’s 106–105 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 5. That’s an unusual step for a personnel honcho, but these are unusual circumstances—it fell to Myers to announce that Durant’s injury is, in fact, to his Achilles tendon. As basketball injuries go, an Achilles injury is historically a few steps below having your head spontaneously pop like a water balloon, but only a few steps below. Durant will apparently have an MRI tomorrow to learn the extent of the injury, but it’s safe to say in the meantime that this is very, very serious.
Part of what you see in that video is the grim business of professional sports, where it falls to someone to tell the world about the snapping or sheering or tearing or shattering of the interior of another person’s body. Part of it, as you can see and hear from Myers’s grey complexion and wobbly voice, is a person being broken up about the condition of a coworker. But there’s also a good deal of fairly sticky message management going on there. Hours before it fell to Myers to update the world on Durant’s devastating injury, it fell to someone in the Warriors organization to give the thumbs up for Durant to play Monday night. As a terse Steve Kerr implied minutes earlier, that decision was made somewhere over the head coach’s head:
Presumably Durant would not have been given the green light to play in a Finals game without the approval of the team’s medical staff. Myers made sure to cover all this, telling the assembled reporters that “prior to coming back, [Durant] went through four weeks with a medical team—it was thorough, and it was experts, multiple MRIs, multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process.” Durant was apparently cleared to play as the result of a “collaborative decision,” presumably with input from Durant himself.
It’s a little bit weird to hear Myers bear down on his repeated suggestion that there’s no one to blame for what happened, which is the real message he’s bundling up in “blame me” platitudes. There are only two ways to read that, if you take it as more than professional courtesy, or lip-service: that no one in the organization could’ve anticipated that Durant’s condition left him vulnerable to re-injury; or that everyone together understood the risk of re-injury and proceeded with the green-light all the same. But that’s an important distinction, and one that hopefully will be cleared up before too long. Did Durant know his body was vulnerable to catastrophic injury? Or did a professional medical staff fail to notice that Durant’s body was vulnerable to catastrophic injury?
And then there’s the question of whether Durant’s apparent enthusiasm for returning to the court for Game 5 was influenced in any way by the extent to which he is known to suffer from online brain. Warriors fans are unhappy with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic for an article he wrote exploring the confusion around Durant’s status following Game 4. Mostly it was harmless, but the kicker had some spice:
Maybe he’ll make it back for Game 5, play brilliantly and lead the charge to a championship. Maybe he won’t make it back and the Warriors will win anyway.
It’s impossible to know. It’s probably a bit cynical to even attempt to analyze. But just ask yourself this: If Thompson or Looney or Curry or Green or Andre Iguodala had this injury 30 days ago, would the Warriors still be waiting for them?
Both Kawakami and fellow Athletic reporter Marcus Thompson hinted at mounting pressure and frustration inside the Warriors organization, which Durant would’ve been aware of even without consuming his usual diet of tweets and articles and raving, unhinged opinion pieces. How much influence did Durant have over his status Monday night? And how much might his position have been influenced by public perception? And were the Warriors cautioning against an early return, or were they happy to take the risk on a player widely presumed to be departing in free agency this summer? Incidentally, Durant’s $31.5 million player option for 2020 now zooms to the foreground for the havoc it might play both on the Warriors’ books next season and the free agency market this summer. If Durant’s Achilles tendon is busted, he is likely to miss all of next season, in which case he can opt to have the Warriors pay him tens of millions of dollars to rehab his leg ahead of unrestricted free agency.
Myers seemed a little too eager to defensively gesture in the direction of those outside the team who’d questioned the severity of Durant’s injury. But those questions tend to arise for the same reason that frustration mounts within the organization, when no one is exactly sure what the player’s condition is and what criteria are being used to determine his readiness. The Warriors sent Kevon Looney back out after just one game missed due to fractured chest cartilage, after early reporting indicated he was likely done for the series; Klay Thompson was described as available in the next game after suffering a hamstring injury, but Kerr kept him pinned to the bench until Game 4; DeMarcus Cousins was on a low minutes limit in Game 1 of the series, but played 28 minutes in Game 2. Meanwhile, through it all, Durant missed nine consecutive playoff games. There’s always more than a little bit of general chaos and confusion about what exactly constitutes “ready” in the NBA Finals, when no one on either team is 100 percent healthy, and everything is on the line. But the Warriors have endured both more than their fair share of injuries and more than their fair share of injury uncertainty in these playoffs.
Most of how this all went down we probably won’t ever learn, as the Warriors close ranks and Durant vanishes down the rehabilitation vortex and various insiders silo information out of loyalty or misdirection or even liability concerns. But one of the two or three best basketball players on earth just suffered a devastating injury in a Finals game, in his first game back after injuring that same part of his leg, and in remarkably similar fashion. Bob Myers, as the self-described “president of basketball,” may be done talking for the night, but he’s still got plenty of explaining left to do.