It turns out that Kevin Durant could only miss a few weeks with a knee injury that looked much worse than that.
But concern was rampant both within the Warriors and in Durant’s camp. Golden State derailed their plans to add a reserve point guard in Jose Calderon so that they could lock up Matt Barnes, the most experienced forward left on the free agent market. Everyone in the Bay Area braced for the worst and hoped for the best, as is all that can be done in situations like these. Even though this could have been worse, Durant could still miss the beginning of the playoffs and not be himself once he recovers.
For the rest of the NBA, though, this saga provides a reminder on the fragility of invincibility.
This is why you try to compete, even if the odds are long. Circumstances change. Fourteen teams could have watched Durant choose the Warriors on July 4 and decided they had no business competing for a bid to the NBA Finals in the Western Conference. All but a few rebuilding clubs put their best teams possible together anyway.
Most really had no business thinking they could beat the Warriors.
But consider the L.A. Clippers. They’ve been the topic of break-up debates for three years running.
That conversation was at a fever pitch in the summer of 2016 after a series of unfortunate events left them with their worst season of the Chris Paul era. Blake Griffin punched a co-worker, breaking his hand. He and CP3 were injured during an inglorious first-round series loss to the Blazers. Three of the four most important players faced 2017 free agency. And the Warriors, who the Clippers hadn’t beaten since the 2014 playoffs, added Kevin Freaking Durant after a 73-9 season.
Facing that reality, the Clippers could have wrapped it up, traded CP3 and perhaps DeAndre Jordan, and retooled around Griffin for the next five years, essentially conceding the next season or two.
L.A. brought back its free agent rotation players at steep prices and invested in shoring up its bench. Griffin and CP3 each got injured within the first half of the season, but the team kept plugging away. Now both are back, and while the Clippers still haven’t beaten the Warriors since 2014, there is an opening even with Durant’s likely return before a potential series.
That’s an unfortunate way to look at a potentially devastating injury to one of the world’s very best players. But it’s real. Kevin Durant going down, even for a few weeks, vastly improves the Clippers’ chances to make the NBA Finals and potentially win a championship.
It does the same for the quietly spectacular San Antonio Spurs and the loudly excellent Houston Rockets. It helps the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Oklahoma City Thunder. If Durant’s injury is as bad as feared, it helps out the Cleveland Cavaliers and — to a smaller extent — the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors. (Those teams have their own Moby Dick — LeBron James’ Cavs — to harpoon before even considering the Warriors’ fate.)
This is nothing new. The only constant in this world is chaos.
Every champion benefits from the misfortune of a rival. Every victory has an asterisk called context.
The Warriors bristled at all mention of the word “luck” after winning the title in 2015. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love played a combined one game in the those Finals. That was certainly fortunate for the Warriors. In 2016, Stephen Curry got banged up in the first round of the playoffs. That was certainly fortunate for the Cavaliers. If a slower-than-expected recovery from Durant’s injury costs Golden State a third straight Finals bid or a second title of the Curry era, that would be unfortunate. But it wouldn’t be a rare occurrence.
What’s rare is for Durant to have a season that doesn’t end in utter misfortune. Injuries to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derailed two of the Thunder’s four best chances at a title during KD’s time in Oklahoma City. A third was spoiled by an unbelievable and unique Klay Thompson shooting performance. The fourth wasn’t primarily a function of bad luck: The 2012 Thunder just ran into a brick wall named LeBron.
Durant sought a clean slate in Golden State, and this happens. It’d be tragic if it was worse and hadn’t happened to any number of other stars. Consider CP3, who’s lived through a decade (and counting) of these confounding derailments. Sometimes, there is no end to the misfortune. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is just the burning embers of the next implosion.
Of course, this could turn out fine. Durant could return before mid-April and pick up where he left off, or he could watch his still-awesome team smoke the field from the sidelines. The Bay Area can breathe knowing his season isn’t over. It’s well within the realm of possibility that this is a blip we quickly forget.
Everything is. Nothing is certain in this sport or anywhere. Not tragedy, not relief, not failure, not success. Anything can and will happen.