Brooklyn Nets: A day later, Kevin Durant’s market is still there

Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Kevin Durant (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets and other potential suitors for injured Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant won’t be deterred by the possibility of a lost season.

The rules of engagement in NBA free agency for Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant appear to be unchanged, according to reports, with the Brooklyn Nets and other suitors apparently ready to charge full-steam ahead into a max deal, even if that means a season without Durant in 2019-20.

With Durant headed to New York for an examination on his injured right Achilles’ tendon, speculation raged Tuesday over whether the market for Durant — who can opt out of the final year and $31.5 million of the two-year contract he signed with the Warriors last July — would cool.

But ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, a former Nets executive, said on the networks Get Up program on Tuesday that executives he’s talked to are still all-in on pursuing the former NBA MVP.

That is a position reinforced by Nets Daily’s Anthony Puccio.

Michael Scotto of The Athletic (subscription required) reported Tuesday that Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks always intended to go big in this year’s free-agent market and take runs at the top of the class in Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.

But there are contingencies built into the plan. Long Island native Tobias Harris could be in play, but in a market where there are far more max contract slots than there are players who are truly at the max-contract level, those contingencies might be costlier than if the cap space around the NBA was limited.

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My initial thought Tuesday was that the safe play for Durant would be to exercise his option and remain with Golden State to rehab.

But as many pointed out, that idea comes with a very big flaw — a year out of sight might drive the market for Durant away.

If Durant has a place he wants to go (such as, say, Brooooooooook-lynnnnnn!!!!), he could sign a deal there and rehab with his new team’s medical staff and trainers, learn the system, get to know the players and come into 2020-21 not having to do all of the “new guy” stuff.

As Bobby Marks pointed out on Get Up, every executive he spoke to about Durant indicated their pursuit of Durant would not be deterred by the Achilles’ injury, which the Warriors believe is a tear, according to ESPN‘s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski.

ESPN Stats & Information presented some interesting data on players since 1992 to have torn an Achilles’ tendon, with LaPhonso Ellis making the quickest recovery at 222 days between games.

The longest gap between games was the 357 days Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins sat out between 2017-18 and his return in 2018-19.

The timing of Durant’s likely injury could dramatically affect his time line, however. He was injured on June 10 in the NBA Finals and using Ellis’ 222-day time table, that would have Durant ready to play in mid-January.

Durant will be 31 in late September, so perhaps a more appropriate comparison might be Dominique Wilkins, who was in his age 32 season when he torn his Achilles’ in late January 1992.

Wilkins returned for the Atlanta Hawks’ season opener in November 1992, going 283 days between games (in part because there were no games to play prior to his return) and went on to average 29.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.0 steals in 37.3 minutes per game.

He did miss 11 games with various ailments, but his playing time only dipped by less than a minute per game from his pre-injury season. Per 36 minutes, his scoring was up a bucket a game and his other numbers were comparable.

Wilkins was also an All-Star in each of the next two seasons after his injury.

So maybe bringing in Durant and having him recover for most or all of the 2019-20 season in order to be back to close to his old self the following season isn’t such a crazy investment idea at all.

Using the 1,000-game barometer (most players historically begin to decline more steeply after that regular-season benchmark), Durant still has nearly two full seasons before reaching that benchmark (he has appeared in 849 career games) and provided all goes well with his recovery, it’s fair to project he will be somewhere close to where he was pre-injury.

In Durant’s case, that would be 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 blocks and a perennial threat to put another season onto the 50/40/90 list.

Another factor to consider when considering signing an injured Durant is that there is a means by which a team could get some salary cap relief in the first season of the deal.

Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, a team can replace a disabled player who will be out for the remainder of the season if an NBA-designated physician confirms the player is more than likely not going to be able to play.

That would allow a team to bring in a player for one season for the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception amount, expected to be approximately $9 million next season. This exception cannot be split among multiple players.

That would allow a team to sign a player to a one-year deal at the Non-Taxpayer MLE rate or to trade for or claim a player on waivers whose salary fits under that number — provided the player is on an expiring contract.

The upside to this is that if Durant is able to return sooner than expected, he could be activated without it affecting the replacement player.

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It’s still a risky move, but to bring in a player of Durant’s magnitude it appears that interested teams have deemed it a risk worth taking.