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O’Connell: Who To Blame For Kevin Durant Injury

Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Toronto Raptors in the first half during Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on June 10, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Here’s who to blame for the Kevin Durant injury.

Nobody.

Sometimes, it just goes bad.

If you really need someone to hold accountable for this. If you absolutely cannot move on with your day without hurling your angst over this injury at someone, blame Kevin Durant.

He suited up and played on a leg that was less than 100 percent, in a potential championship-deciding matchup on the road. Whatever was bad got worse, and now Kevin Durant is seriously hurt.

So today everybody is firing up their “Hot-Take” machines and stretching as far as they can to point a finger and find someone to blame. Everybody from Charles Barkley to your neighborhood milkman (do those still exist?) is shouting from the rooftops blaming the Warriors medical staff, Bob Myers, even Steve Kerr. Stop. Seriously, if this is you, and you’re looking for someone to pin this on, just knock it off.

Blame With Respect

What we saw last night was an unfortunate turn of events that is, always has been, and always will be a part of the sporting landscape. The worst-case scenario played out in a situation where a professional athlete took a calculated risk. If you must blame somebody for what happened, blame Kevin Durant himself. But if you think there is any value in blaming the man who also pays the steepest price for what happened, make sure you balance that by giving him the respect he is due for taking that risk.

Despite what the talking heads and pundits will scream at cameras or into microphones as we get more details on the full diagnosis and prognosis over the next day or two, Kevin Durant knows and is responsible for his own body better than everybody. No number of expert opinions, sophisticated imaging machines, or informed advisors can ever change that.

This is a grown man who makes a living with his athleticism and his body. His limbs are his tools. He knows the state of durability and health in those tools best. If Kevin Durant truly felt like this outcome was likely, or even a potential outside risk, he probably wouldn’t have attempted to play.

Or maybe he would have. Maybe he was willing to put his body on the line for the sake of his teammates and the pursuit of a championship. Perhaps Kevin Durant hated the narrative that he didn’t care enough about the Warriors or the game of basketball or his own legacy to try to battle back from a calf strain so much that he was willing to play on an injured leg.  (If this is the case, blame the media for his injury I guess).

Maybe Durant, despite all of the criticism, is old-school. A throwback to the days of Bird and Parrish, Stockton and Malone, Jordan and Pippen, where you played when you were hurt because your team needed you and you had a job to do. We used to praise athletes for those things, because risk and sacrifice are part of making a living in sports.

In our world of bipolar opinions we criticize players for taking “rest days” but also freak out when a guy doesn’t rest with a trophy on the line and it goes bad. Really, really, really, bad. Like, shake-up-your-teammates-and-make-the-boss-cry-at-the-podium-kind-of-bad…

It absolutely sucks for everyone involved that Kevin Durant – one of the games contemporary greats and potentially and all-timer – is out with what looks like a serious Achilles injury. It’s potentially disastrous for the Warriors, who have obviously met their match in the Raptors, especially without him on the floor.

It’s even unfortunate for Toronto, who the few malcontents will now question even if they win the title by saying “yeah but Durant was out.” Of course it is worse for Kevin Durant, who now faces what might be a long and difficult road to recovery.

Thankfully, medical technology and rehab technique (and accessible HGH, if we’re being honest) have drastically altered the prognosis on injuries like Achilles tears.

Free Agency Value

He will miss a year of prime basketball, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that he can return to something close to his All-Star form if everything goes right. You can dismiss the doom and gloom about this hurting his value on the free agency market too.

Every team in the NBA will still be willing to give him max money. If the Knicks wanted him before, they want him still. So yes, Kevin Durant risked a lot playing in that game, but he didn’t risk his ability to make a living or financial future. Somebody….heck EVERYBODY in an NBA front office is still going to be willing to pay this man.

You can also dismiss the notion that the Warriors somehow bullied or coerced Kevin Durant into playing when he didn’t want to. Sure, they probably know he is leaving and wanted to get the most of out of him before he left.  But the idea that anybody in that organization actually has the power to force a player of Kevin Durant’s stature to do anything is absurd.

In the NBA, players run the league. Lebron James calls the shots in LA. Kawhi gets to do what he wants in Toronto. The Golden State Warriors have a long and demonstrated history as the most player-centric, player-friendly team in the league and a coach who was a player himself.

If NBA owners, coaches and GM’s actually had any sort of coercive power over their players, we would not have seen the Kawhi situation in San Antonio, the Anthony Davis situation in New Orleans, or pretty much anything in Jimmy Butler’s career. The balance of power in the NBA makes it impossible for anybody to force a star player to do anything.

Even if they could force Kevin Durant to play. Nobody would. The backlash for such a thing would mean no players wanting to be part of your team. If anybody had any inkling that KD was going to pop an Achilles last night, he would have been bubble-wrapped and left at home.

I have no idea what Steve Kerr, Bob Myers, Steph Curry, or anybody else may have said to influence Kevin Durant one way or another. Nobody knows if he was scrolling through his Twitter feed getting upset at the way people questioned his heart and dedication. We will probably never get the full story on how conversations went down with his mother, his teammates, or even his closest medical advisors ahead of the decision to play in Game 5 in Toronto.

Maybe this injury will alter the course of NBA basketball forever and we’ll get a 30 for 30 someday. I doubt it. I don’t need it anyway. I know what I saw last night.

An NBA star took a risk with his own health, with his own future, to play hurt. Kevin Durant tried to help his team stay alive in the pursuit of the championship. He gambled on his calf-strain/Achilles injury holding up, and he lost. These things are an unfortunate side-effect of life in the athletic arena.

All of the noise about how this could have been predicted and prevented is just that, noise. Hindsight makes everyone a medical genius and personnel management savant. Kevin Durant cares what people think about him. He cares about basketball. He cares about the Warriors, and he cares about winning. That’s why he played last night. Kevin Durant made the decision to play. He bears the cost. And he is the one who will pay it. Show some respect and stop trying to blame it on somebody else.