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A Kevin Durant injury changes so much, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Wednesday, WFNY!

And welcome to March, my friends! We made it! February, traditionally the worst month of winter, is behind us1. As far as sports months go, March and April are pretty great. March is the last full month of regular season NBA basketball. Then we have March Madness, followed by the Masters. And of course, we have the return of baseball.

The big news this morning, though, is the injury to Kevin Durant last night. Now, I feel the need to say this upfront because I know in this internet age we live in that someone will try to twist this and put words in my mouth, but I am in no way, shape, or form, happy that Durant got hurt. I wasn’t rooting for injury before and I take no pleasure in seeing any kind of knee injury to anyone. I need to be unequivocal about this. Durant seems like a good dude and it’s awful to see him go out like that. We don’t know the extent of his injury as of this writing, but I think we can all agree that we’re happy it’s not as serious as it looks like it could have been had Pachulia landed on his leg slightly different.

However, just because I’m not happy about the injury doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it and what it potentially means for the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Now, again, we don’t know the severity of the injury yet. It could be a simple hyperextended knee which could sideline him for a couple weeks. If there’s structural damage to any of the ligaments, though, it could be a serious problem. And, for what it’s worth, the mood surrounding Durant and the Warriors was pretty somber last night.

If Durant does indeed miss the rest of the regular season, there could be some interesting fallout from that. The Warriors without Durant are still pretty damn good. The core of the team that has terrorized the rest of the NBA for the last few years is still there. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, all still there. But losing Durant makes the Warriors suddenly look very thin.

Golden State currently holds a four-game lead over the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference. If the Warriors slide without Durant even the slightest bit, it opens the door for the Spurs to overtake them for the top seed. Doing so would potentially force the Warriors to have to face the feisty Houston Rockets in the second round and then the Spurs in the conference finals before their rematch with the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. That is a significantly more arduous path than playing the Utah Jazz in the second round and then only having to play the winner of a potential Rockets-Spurs series.

And what if Durant misses more than just the regular season? What if he doesn’t come back until mid-playoffs and then has to shake a few months of rust off? It’s not rocket science to note that the Warriors are significantly more beatable without Durant than they are with him. Suppose a team like the Rockets do beat the Warriors in the second round. This would be a seismic shift to the seemingly predestined narrative of this whole NBA season. Everything in this season has been about the rubber match between the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Anything that jeopardizes that ending is a dramatic change to how everything in the NBA is currently perceived.

A month ago, the Warriors winning the NBA Championship felt like a bit of an inevitability. The Cavs have LeBron James and as long as a team has LeBron, I’m never fully counting them out. But things were looking bleak for Cleveland. Now, in the blink of an eye, the Cavaliers have been completely remade. Not that long ago, guys like Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins, and Jordan McRae were getting real minutes. Now, once Kevin Love and JR Smith return, the Cavs bench will consist of Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Williams, Richard Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, and Channing Frye. Whoa. That’s an actual NBA bench!

I was writing about the Cavaliers’ very real problem with bench depth back in early December already. When JR Smith first went out with the thumb injury, the bench was DeAndre Liggins, RJ, Chris Andersen, Mike Dunleavy, Kay Felder, Channing Frye, James Jones, Jordan McRae. Compare that to the list above. It’s ridiculous how much Cleveland GM David Griffin has overhauled the bench without giving up anything of value and not having any real assets to work with.

I think an argument can be made now that the Cavaliers are actually a deeper team than the Warriors. An injury to Durant only tips that scale even further. Yes, I will take another Cavaliers championship any way I can get it, but I really want the Cavs to beat the Warriors at full strength. Sure, a Championship last season might have been easier had the Thunder held on and beat the Warriors, but wasn’t it better breaking that Championship drought the hard way? I’m hoping Durant will be fine for the playoffs and the NBA storyline can get back on track as scheduled. But if Durant is out, or not at 100%, it might change an awful lot about what is going to play out over the next few months.

Look, all of this is making a lot of assumptions on the part of Cleveland as well. This is assuming JR Smith is able to get back to full speed in time for the playoffs. It’s assuming Kevin Love is able to reclaim the excellent form he was showing before his injury. It’s assuming other injuries don’t plague the Cavaliers before then. Let’s face it, the Cavaliers are not a model of health in recent years. It’s been a constant struggle and juggling act of various injuries.

Injuries have always been a major part of basketball, and in the sport where one player can have the most impact on a team, so too can one injury have the biggest impact on a team as well as the league as a whole. Make no mistake, an injury to Kevin Durant is major news. This is going to send out ripple effects throughout the NBA. Already the Warriors had to back off from signing career Cavs-killer Jose Calderon to instead sign Matt Barnes to fill in for Durant. Who knows how much this will change the sequence of events to play out. All I know is, ten years from now there’s a very real chance that we look back at this Durant injury as the thing that changed everything about the 2016-17 season.

Or maybe Durant is back in a few weeks and everything plays out as intended. You know that’s what the Warriors are hoping for, and honestly, I am too. Yes, I’m scared of the Cavaliers having to play a fully loaded Warriors team. But the best sports stories are the ones that come against the longest odds. And I’ll take on any team as long as I have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on my team. Today we’ll find out more about the severity of Durant’s injury. I, for one, am hoping for the best for him.

  1. Unless your birthday is in February, I think we can all agree that February is definitely one of the worst months of the year. It’s my second-least favorite month, behind only August. Seriously, I hate August. []

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