2019 NBA Free Agents: Kevin Durant
Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo
Overview: An all-time level player, Kevin Durant was supposed to enter free agency ready to start the next phase in his career as arguably the best player in the NBA. Tragically, he rushed himself back from injury to play Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals and tore his Achilles tendon, knocking him out of not just the Finals but also all of next season. No one in the history of the NBA has ever came back completely following a torn Achilles, but Durant is still the kind of generational talent that will receive max contract offers.
Regular Season Stats: 26.0 points, 5.9 assists, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 2.9 turnovers per game on 52.1 FG%, 35.3 3FG%, and 89 FT% shooting.
Postseason Stats: 32.3 points, 4.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 3.6 turnovers per game on 51.4 FG%, 43.8 3FG%, and 90.3 FT% shooting.
Strengths: First and foremost, Durant gets buckets. He’s led the league in scoring four times during his 12-year career and has never averaged less than 20 points per game in a season. He’s got the kind of height that only power forwards and centers can really bother his shot. He has guard-like handles and agility to create his own shot. He has the touch and strength to finish through contact and at awkward angles. He’s got post moves. He’s got an elite shooting stroke. He can score in just about any way you can imagine from anywhere on the court.
Beyond scoring, Durant has put in the effort to really round out his game. He’s an improving playmaker that gets his team involved. He’s a solid rebounder with his height and length. During his time with the Warriors, he poured more energy and focus into the defensive end, becoming a switchable defender capable of guarding out on the perimeter or protecting the rim. Durant is arguably the best player in the league for good reason.
Weaknesses: At the moment, the biggest weakness for Durant is the uncertainty of his future. Achilles injuries are notoriously brutal in the NBA, especially for a player of Durant’s height and playstyle. KD likely won’t return to the court until the 2020-2021 season, meaning whoever signs him this summer will do so knowing he most probably won’t be there at all next year. Even when he does, what level will he be at? A Durant at 80% is still worth a max contract easily, but what about 70%? 60%?
Assuming a miracle scenario in which he comes back at 100%, Durant has few weaknesses. With his height and length, you can argue he should be a better rebounder, though doing so limits his fastbreak opportunities where he’s particularly devastating. He could try to draw more fouls and get to the line, but with him coming back from injury, it may not be favorable to have him absorb more and more contact. He can still improve as a defender, but coming off a major injury at age 31, it’ll be tough for him, especially including the burden he’ll have on offense. All in all, Durant is one of the most complete two-way players in the league.
Ideal Role: Assuming Durant comes back at 100%, he’s the focal point of the offense. The ball should be in his hands as much as he wants it to be, and especially during clutch moments. If the Achilles injury saps him of some mobility, he’ll still probably be the focal point of the offense, albeit with less ball-handling responsibilities. Even if Durant couldn’t move he’d be a devastating catch-and-shoot threat. So much of this, though, is determined by how he looks post-injury.
Possible Landing Spots: Golden State Warriors: As with Klay Thompson, Durant may feel there’s unfinished business given the way injuries and a hungry Raptors team prevented the Warriors from completing their three-peat. The Golden State front has already said they’re willing to give Durant a full five-year max contract now, something he might consider given his most recent setback, which is a reminder of how NBA careers can turn for the worse. With Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and probably Thompson, they’d still be the title favorites when he gets back.
New York Knicks: Earlier this year, the Knicks traded star player Kristaps Porzingis to open up two max slots, one of which was rumored to be for Durant, while the other would be a player of his choice. The idea was that now that Durant had won his titles with the Warriors, he would go to the Knicks and turn them into a title contender, thus improving his legacy. As things currently stand, both of those slots are still available, and the Knicks are desperate enough to gamble on Durant regardless of the outcome. If KD gets on board, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a running mate for him so they can compete for the 2021 Finals.
Expected Next Contract:
Durant’s decision this summer was already one of the biggest question marks around the league, and that was before his injury. Now, it could be anyone’s guess. Does he start the next chapter of his career in New York like so many had speculated, or does he appreciate the show of confidence from the Warriors and wants the extra year and additional money post-injury? Regardless of where he goes, I expect Durant to get as much money and as many years as he wants. Most likely, I think he goes to New York and does his best to bring that franchise back up from the abyss.