Losing the 2019 NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors is a tough pill to swallow for the Golden State Warriors. But losing Kevin Durant to a torn Achilles is tougher. The repercussions of the injury affected more than just the Warriors’ chances to snatch the Larry O’Brien Trophy from the Raptors. It will also affect his future with the team this July when he decides what to do with the remaining year on his contract.
Back in November, Draymond Green thought they could win the championship without Durant. We now know how wrong he was after the Raptors nearly finished them off in five games in the Finals instead of six without KD’s services.
Assuming the Warriors can only keep one of these elite forwards, whose services should the Warriors retain?
This summer, Durant may decide to opt in to the remaining year on his current deal worth $31.5 million next season and spend the next year rehabbing his Achilles. If he does this, both he and Green will be free agents at the same time in 2020. This is one scenario when majority owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers may have to decide between two of their key players.
However, his value in the open market this offseason is going to be the big decision-maker. According to a report from Ken Berger of Bleacher Report, the injury won’t affect his free agency status this summer at all.
“I don’t think it’s going to change one thing,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “Some teams have been setting themselves up for this and preparing for Durant to choose them, and I think those teams are too deep into it now. I don’t think they can turn back.”
While he is unquestionably one of the best players in the game, the Achilles injury could continue to factor into negotiations if he opts out of his contract. If he’s not getting a max deal, it’s doubtful that Durant will the test free agent waters. But teams will continue to knock on his door knowing that at less than 100 percent performance, he’s still better than 95 percent of the forwards in the league.
By becoming a free agent, he forces the Warriors to sign him to a max deal after he sacrificially played in Game 5 of the Finals despite the risk to his career.
The Luxury Tax and Repeater Tax
The Warriors have been paying the luxury tax three of the past four seasons but now will have to add the repeater tax next season if they re-sign Durant and Thompson to max deals. They will also offer Green a max extension this summer worth around $25 million a year and they also have to consider Kevon Looney who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
But even if Green doesn’t sign the extension and he stays in his current deal, Yossi Gozlan of USA Today projects the Warriors to owe as much as $168.8 million in player salaries and $175 million on repeater and luxury tax payments which amount to a whopping $343.9 million in expenses.
If he re-signs with the team to a max contract in 2020, they could be in for a massive $350.7 million overall expense. That would severely limit their ability to create a title contender and this could be the last straw that breaks the Warriors’ core team.
Will the Warriors re-sign Green at the risk of building a solid team that can compete for a championship for the next couple of years? The fact that a title run is the only thing that validates paying exorbitant taxes suggests the Warriors may have to choose between Durant or Green. It’s doubtful that they will break up the Splash Brothers of Stephen Curry and Thompson?
The Case for Draymond Green
This past season was a bit of a down year for the Warriors’ do-it-all forward. His numbers were down significantly across the board. But that’s only for the regular season. When it really mattered the most, he turned it on in the playoffs and shone for the embattled Warriors. His 8.5 assists was a career postseason high, his 13.3-points average was his highest in three years and the 10.1 rebounds tied his second highest ever. And without him as the team’s defensive anchor, there’s no way Golden State could have reached the Finals.
Green’s unique set of abilities make him an invaluable member of the Dubs. He makes everyone better by doing the dirty work, those that don’t show up in the regular box scores. He’s a three-time All-Star and a five-time All-Defensive Team member.
Should the Warriors decide to trade him, however, there are a handful of teams that he can fit in. These teams are those that are on the cusp of a championship and would benefit from Green’s all-around talents to get them over the hump. A team like the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers would inquire about the 6-foot-7 forward if he becomes available.
The Case for Kevin Durant
Though Durant will most likely miss an entire year, there is no way that the Warriors will not try to re-sign him to a max contract if he becomes a free agent. Whenever he plays until the Finals, they have known nothing but championships. When healthy, the two-time Finals MVP makes a case for himself as the best player in the game.
But the Achilles injury makes this a complicated matter.
Will the Warriors re-sign him to a max contract, fulfill their obligations to rehab him from the injury and then trade him elsewhere in the hopes of saving millions? That’s difficult to imagine especially after Durant’s contributions to the Warriors’ dynastic run. More importantly, it’s not good for their public image to let him walk this summer without offering him the max or trade him a season after his rehab is done.
Prior to the injury, Durant carried the Warriors past the first round of the playoffs and led them to the brink of eliminating the Houston Rockets in the second round. From there, the rest of his teammates took over. He also inspired them in Game 5 of the Finals with 11 points in the first half before he ruptured his Achilles in the second quarter. That was the boost his teammates needed to extend the series to a sixth game.
Who Should Go?
If the Warriors decide to hold off on the spending, the player likely to be traded is Green. Despite his many intangible gifts, he is the more expendable of the two. On the other hand, Durant is a future Hall of Famer who can overcome his devastating injury by tweaking his game.
But don’t hold your breath on the Warriors’ core disbanding just yet.
Last February, Warriors owner Joe Lacob spoke with Tim Kawakami of The Athletic about their plans for the team.
“We can do whatever we want (financially),” Lacob said. “And you should expect that that’s not going to be a reason this team … doesn’t stay great going forward. We have the capital to pay our players what they deserve. And we will.”
Green may be less valuable but don’t expect the Warriors to break up the team any time soon.