The structure of Kevin Durant’s current contract with the Golden State Warriors provides the superstar with a measure of financial insurance this summer even as a devastating injury during Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals likely damaged his value on the free agent market.
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Durant is believed to have torn his right Achilles tendon during the game’s second quarter, in what was his first on-court action since he injured his right calf on May 8. Prior to the injury, it was considered a virtual certainty that Durant would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Warriors to test free agency, where he would have commanded a max contract.
Instead, Durant can exercise his $31.5 million player option and return to the Warriors for the 2019-20 NBA season, much of which will likely be dedicated to rehabbing his injured Achilles. The 30-year-old former MVP would become a free agent the following offseason, more than a year removed from the injury.
Durant also could choose to stick to his expected original plan and opt out of the deal, betting that his status as one of the NBA’s most dominant players will convince a team to offer him a max contract despite a severe leg injury. Under NBA rules, teams can offer Durant a 4-year deal worth an estimated $164 million, while the Warriors, as his current franchise, can offer a “super-max” 5-year, $220 million contract.
The injury complicates Golden State’s financial outlook as the team contends with looming free agency negotiations with fellow superstars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With Stephen Curry already locked in to a super-max contract, any attempt to retain Durant, Thompson and Green would push the Warriors’ luxury tax penalty to record levels.
Warriors officials have yet to determine the severity of Durant’s Achilles injury. A partial or complete tear of the ligament – considered one of the most devastating injuries in sports – would sideline Durant for months and require a lengthy rehab process.
With the Warriors trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals, Durant fought to come back from the calf injury and received medical clearance just hours before tipoff. He scored 11 points before re-injuring the leg.
"It's an Achilles injury," an emotional Warriors general manager Bob Myers said after the game. "I don't know the extent of it. He'll have an MRI tomorrow. Prior to coming back he went through four weeks with a medical team, and it was thorough, and it was experts and multiple MRIs and multiple doctors, and we felt good about the process."