Until October of last year, Kevin Durant had never suffered a major injury. In fact, across seven NBA seasons, he had missed just 16 regular season games. But things change quickly in the NBA.
On Friday, Thunder general manager Sam Presti announced through a press release that Durant will undergo his third procedure on his foot in six months and is out for the remainder of the year. This comes a week after Presti first announced Durant was in jeopardy of being shut down this year. The Jones fracture he suffered before the season has led to complications, and now those complications have developed problems of their own.
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed that Durant's return was imminent. Now, he's facing more surgery and a four to six month timetable for recovery. Presti emphasized that his health is more important than him returning in time for the playoffs and Durant won't step on the floor again until he's no longer feeling soreness in the foot.
The start of Durant's problems
The initial Jones fracture in Durant's right foot and the ensuing six-to-eight week timetable was announced on Oct. 12. At the time, it was only seen as a temporary setback. When suffering a Jones fracture for the first time, doctors say the outcome is usually consistent. As long as the foot heals, reinjuring it is unlikely. All Durant had to do is to wait it out and he'd be OK.
But costar Russell Westbrook broke his hand in the second game of the year and the Thunder crashed and burned to start the season, going just 4-12 in a brutal Western Conference. Even though Westbrook came back from his injury on Nov. 28, Durant must have felt some pressure to get back quickly. How could he not? Without him or Westbrook, the Thunder had no clear direction on either side of the ball.
Durant ended up returning a game after Westbrook on Dec. 2, missing 17 games to open the year. This return put him on the low side of his six-to-eight week recovery period, a timetable that many people already thought was too quick. It's hardly a surprise he only made it just nine games before going out again with a severely sprained ankle.
On Dec. 31, he was back in the lineup for a thrilling win against the Suns before missing two games in late January with foot soreness. He returned for a game, missed a couple more and then was playing again.
What was most damning was that the All-Star break didn't seem to help at all. He basically had an entire week off, playing just 10 minutes in the All-Star game, and he still couldn't get his foot right healthy. Durant played his first game out of the break and then underwent surgery intended to relieve the soreness he was experiencing from the screw inserting during the Jones surgery.
All that led to Friday's press release announcing Durant would miss the remainder of the regular season and is facing more surgery.
Where do the Thunder go now
Now we're left to pick up the pieces. It's just speculation right now whether Durant should have rested longer or sat out sooner, but if he believes Oklahoma City mishandled him, that could have a profound impact on his upcoming 2016 free agency. An organization that can't keep its players healthy is an organization doomed to fail.
This will be the third straight postseason for the Thunder derailed by crippling injuries to one of their three stars. In fact, without Durant and with Serge Ibaka out until April, Oklahoma City could still miss the playoffs. Considering Russell Westbrook's Herculean efforts this season, the Thunder's three-game lead on the surging Suns and 3.5-game lead on the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans may be enough if Oklahoma City can manage to win about half of their remaining 10 games. However, there's little to no hope of upsetting the No. 1 seed Warriors once there.
Four years ago, the Thunder lost in the 2011-12 Finals but it appeared to open up a window that would be there for years. Now, Durant's injury is just a reminder at how fleeting success can be and that nothing can ever be taken for granted.