McGraw: Durant injury certain to put a damper on the NBA's summer
This is supposed to be an eventful summer in the NBA, and it should still be.
But that top domino has been removed from the playing floor and there's no telling how the other blocks will fall.
Monday's Game 5 in Toronto will go down in history as one of the most eventful of the NBA Finals. Golden State stayed alive by winning a thriller on the road. There will be at least one more game to this season, but the big-picture news was rough, with Warriors star Kevin Durant going down with an apparent Achilles tendon injury. There was no official update on Tuesday, but several outlets reported the team believes the injury to be a torn Achilles.
It didn't take long for the impact to be felt around the league. The New York Daily News ran a back-page headline that read, "Knicks lose Game 5: Durant goes down with an Achilles injury, ruining everything."
Of course, there was never any guarantee Durant would jump to the Knicks as a free agent this summer, but New York cleared cap space with that dream in mind.
So what happens now? Well, Durant basically has the same three choices he had when healthy. He has a player option for next season worth $31.5 million. He could opt-in, stay with the Warriors and hope to return late next season.
He could opt-out of his contract and sign an extension to stay in Golden State, or hit the open market with his right leg in walking boot. Hitting the open market in that state doesn't seem like the best business decision.
What team would be willing to invest in an expensive, long-term deal with a player who turns 31 before the start of next season and has a torn Achilles? The Knicks might still do it. The Lakers, coming off a rough season with an aging LeBron James, probably wouldn't.
If Durant decides to stay with the Warriors, then teams with cap space will have to move on to other targets. New Orleans' Anthony Davis, who requested a trade last season, and Toronto free agent Kawhi Leonard would become the most sought-after talents. Players like Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker would likely become hotter commodities on the free-agent market.
The Durant injury could effect the Bulls indirectly. As teams put together trade packages for Davis, the Bulls could join in as the third team in a deal or absorb contracts of teams trying to clear cap space.
The other situation to watch is in Brooklyn. Earlier rumors of Boston's Kyrie Irving teaming up with Durant in New York have been replaced with talk that Irving is leaning toward joining the Nets. If Brooklyn is able to sign Irving and wants to chase a second major free-agent, then all-star guard and restricted free agent D'Angelo Russell is probably moving on.
If that's the case, the Bulls should be at the front of the line to either deliver Russell an offer sheet or negotiate a sign-and-trade. The Most Improved Award finalist would be a nice fit with the Bulls' current nucleus.
The Game 5 scene was certainly a familiar one for Bulls fans. Back in 2012, a playoff atmosphere at the United Center was shattered by Derrick Rose's ACL tear. Along with the initial shock of crashed playoff hopes came the realization that Rose would face a long rehab and miss most -- as it turned out, all -- of the following season.
Golden State is in much better shape than those Bulls were. The nucleus of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green can still capture the group's fourth title in five years with two more victories over Toronto.
But Durant's long-term future is a concern. By all accounts, a torn Achilles is a tough recovery. Warriors teammate DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles on Jan. 26, 2018, and played his first game with the Warriors on Jan. 18, 2019.
A couple of other case studies are more optimistic. Portland's Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles on Mar. 5, 2015, signed with Dallas as a free agent, and played in the next season's opener on Oct. 28.
Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles on April 12, 2013, and returned on Dec. 9. That one had a bad ending, though, as Bryant played in six games before being shut down for the season with a knee issue. Former Bulls forward Elton Brand tore his Achilles in a summer workout in 2007 and returned on April 2, 2008.
The Bulls were never the same after Rose's playoff injury. It will take a year or more to see how the Warriors and Durant survive this setback.