Brooklyn Nets: Free agency market gets jolt with Kevin Durant injury

Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets will clear Allen Crabbe’s $18.5 million off their cap sheet for next season, but Kevin Durant, a rumored Net target, may be off the market.

Brooklyn Nets fans have been dreaming for months of their team having both the cash and the cachet to make a splash in free agency and with rumors of a Kyrie IrvingKevin Durant package deal being on the table, the fan base was already at a fever pitch in anticipation.

But those dreams likely took a serious hit on Monday night when Durant made his first appearance in the NBA Finals, but left after just 12 minutes of action with what has been reported as an injured right Achilles.

Per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Golden State Warriors believe an MRI on Tuesday will confirm what they already believe.

Durant is no stranger to serious injury, missing much of the 2014-15 season while with the Oklahoma City Thunder with a troublesome Jones fracture in his right foot.

Durant returned to the court Monday night for Game 5 of the NBA Finals with the Warriors facing elimination on the road at the hands of the Toronto Raptors.

He had missed the Warriors’ previous nine games since straining his right calf during Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.

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There will be tons of talking-head speculation Tuesday — to be honest, it began in earnest about 14 milliseconds after Durant went down in Game 5 — about Durant’s heart, the Warriors’ medical staff, that it was an Achilles injury all along and so on.

But from the perspective of the Brooklyn Nets, Durant’s injury — if confirmed to be a torn Achilles — will likely take the former NBA MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP off the free-agent market for this year.

Durant signed a two-year, $61.5 million contract last July to remain with the Warriors, but that deal included a $31.5 million player option for next season that he was widely expected to decline in pursuit of a potential four-year, $164 million max deal with another team in free agency.

If the injury is what the Warriors’ medical staff believes, it seems Durant’s most logical play now would be to exercise his option for 2019-20 and remain with Golden State during his rehab process, get healthy and hunt a big pay day next summer, when he will be entering his age 32 season.

There are other impact forwards on the free agent market (or expected to be on the market after declining player options).

Those players include Raptors’ playoff hero Kawhi Leonard ($18.87 million player option), New Orleans Pelicans big man Julius Randle ($8.86 million player option), Tobias Harris of the Philadelphia 76ers and Thaddeus Young of the Indiana Pacers.

The 76ers hold Bird rights on Harris and can sweeten a potential deal with an fifth year and 8 percent annual increases, as opposed to the maximum of four years and 5 percent annual raises any other team can extend to Harris.

Among centers, Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic — a first-time All-Star in 2019 at age 28 — is hitting the market, while former All-Star DeMarcus Cousins of Golden State will also be back on the block after taking a below-market one-year deal from the Warriors last summer,

There are some interesting big men with player options, as well, including Boston Celtics veteran Al Horford ($28.33 million option), former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol of Toronto ($22.64 million option), Miami Heat shot-swatter Hassan Whiteside ($24.6 million option) and Jonas Valanciunas of the Memphis Grizzlies ($16 million option).

There are still options out there for Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks.

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But those Kevin Durant dreams may have to be put on hold.