The Golden State Warriors have been dethroned as NBA champions. The Toronto Raptors made history by becoming the first team from outside the United States to win an NBA title. Unfortunately for the Dubs, they suffered two huge injuries in the Finals that ultimately cost them a chance at a three-peat. So it’s back to the drawing board for Golden State.
Losing does not mean the end of the world for the Warriors. It’s just the end of this current title run which is by the way impressive, given they won three titles in the last five years. Definitely, there is life after this season and given an entire summer to recharge and reload, the Warriors have options and moves to make during the offseason.
If the Warriors plan to go back on top of the mountain, it is imperative that they keep the “Core Four” of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. But right now, only Cury and Green are guaranteed to return next season by virtue of their existing contracts. Klay Thompson is a free agent this coming summer while Durant has an opt-out option in his existing contract where he can test free agency this coming July 1.
Thompson though is expected to re-sign with Golden State if the Warriors are going to offer him the long-term max contract. That’s according to his father Mychal, who is a good source when it comes to Klay’s future plans. With Thompson’s ACL injury, the likelihood of him re-signing once the Dubs send him an offer is likely. Also, Thompson is a home-grown star of the Warriors and has never sent feelers that he wants to leave nor have there been rumors linking him to a departure from the Bay Area. So most likely, the Warriors will have no problems in keeping Klay Thompson.
Durant Is A Different Story
Kevin Durant is an entirely different story. He came to Golden State from Oklahoma City the season after the Warriors overcame a 1-3 deficit to beat his Thunder team in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. The Warriors would end up losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in NBA Finals and the story is after the Cavs clinched the title in Game 7, Draymond Green called up Kevin Durant and asked him to come to the Bay Area so they could win it all the next season. KD bolted OKC and won back to back NBA titles plus two NBA Finals MVP with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018.
With his goal of winning the NBA title achieved, not once but twice, and with the two Finals MVP awards as icing on the cake, Durant has been rumored to be leaving the Dubs at the end of the 2019 season. According to the gossips, Durant is keen on leaving Golden State because he wants to forge his legacy elsewhere because while Durant has been the key to the Dubs’ 2017 and 2018 seasons, he hasn’t gotten the kind of respect and recognition that he truly deserves and desires. Critics have labeled him as weak and as a snake among others while criticizing him for taking the easy route to the title by joining the best team in the league.
Then there is also that angle where KD wants to seek a long-term max contract elsewhere. Although Durant was making handsome money in Golden State, he didn’t take the max salary so that the Warriors could still build a better team around their four All-Stars. With Durant making sacrifices in the previous two seasons, it is understandable why he would ask for the max this time around, especially given how injuries could change a player’s fortunes in a blink of an eye. But too bad for KD, he suffered an Achilles injury while attempting to return in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals and his Warriors down 1-3 to the Toronto Raptors in the championship series. The injury will now sideline Durant for probably a year which means he won’t play the entire 2019-20 NBA season. With this latest development, the landscape of Kevin Durant’s free agency may have changed.
Does The Injury Change The Landscape?
With Durant out due to a serious injury that will prevent him from playing the entire of next season, teams who previously lusted at him may change their minds now given his situation. For one, paying someone the max salary while that player is sitting out one full season may not be a good idea. Likewise, “max-ing” someone without a 100% guarantee that he will return to his pre-injury form is another issue. Remember what happened to DeMarcus Cousins last season? That could happen in this situation, except that this is Kevin Durant, the best offensive player in the game today and probably the best player overall in the game today. Given Durant’s stature and his age, teams may still want to offer him the long-term max contract because they are confident that he can return to his old form. And while it’s true that Kevin Durant’s value may have taken a hit with his Achilles injury, there are likely still a handful of teams who are willing to take the gamble and offer him that long-term max contract.
For Golden State, Kevin Durant’s injury may have cost them the 2019 NBA title, but if there’s anything positive that they can get from that injury, it’s the fact that Durant may decide to stay because of his injury status. What if Durant never returns to his old form after the injury? What if his game won’t be the same again? Those are some of the risks that other teams are thinking. Those are the risks that are for sure at the back of Durant’s mind heading to this offseason? What if he ends up where Boogie Cousins is right now.
The safe thing for Durant is to sign the max extension that Golden State is going to dangle in front of him in July. If he played his career safe by choosing to play with the Warriors to win an NBA title instead of winning it with the Thunder, then why not play it safe to re-sign with the Warriors rather than risk not getting paid elsewhere because of his injury status? Again, we don’t know how much KD is really worth to the other teams until we see the offer sheets. As for Golden State, they’ve already said they already said that their goal is to re-sign both Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. But are the Warriors really serious about that?
Keeping the Band Together
When the Dubs declared that they want to re-sign both Klay Thompson and KD, doing so would mean huge financial costs. According to NBA salary cap expert Bobby Marks of ESPN, Joe Lacob and the Warriors’ ownership will have a payroll of $168M with Durant and Thompson signed to the max. That would mean a luxury tax of $155M at year end for the Dubs. And the assumption here is that the Warriors would keep their four All-Stars but will be surrounded by minimum salaries and rookie contracts. Would that be enough to reclaim the throne? Remember that depth was one of the Warriors’ issued in the 2019 NBA Finals and in the 2019 playoffs in general. The Warriors are rich enough to afford to pay it all. But are they really serious about paying a $155M luxury tax just to keep Klay and KD?
As for Kevin Durant, it does appear that the safest thing to do is to sign an extension with the Warriors rather than test the market. But the latest report from NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski is that “opting in” would be the KD’s last option. Woj is making the assumption that teams like the Nets and Knicks are more than willing to sign Durant even with him missing the entirety of next season and even without the guarantee of KD returning to his old form. These teams have been struggling to win for years now and waiting one season to get a true superstar, perhaps the best player in the world right now, wouldn’t really make a huge difference for them. If that is indeed the case, then maybe Durant would really leave.
No one knows really for sure how the Kevin Durant story is going to unfold. Durant hasn’t spoken about his plans. Nor do we have a clue at what his next move will be. Personally, I think Durant is going to return to the Warriors, sign an extension and try to win the title in 2021 when he and Klay will be back. My thing is if the Warriors are really serious about paying the $155M luxury tax to keep both KD and Klay at max contracts. That’s a huge risk the Warriors are going to take. But given what teams like the Lakers are willing to risk in order to build their title own championship squads, I think that the Dubs will try to keep the band together for another run at glory. So no, I don’t think Kevin Durant has played his final game for the Warriors.