Just hours after their biggest win of their year, it is difficult to express how dumb the Golden State Warriors look.
They won a single game and, in so doing, cost themselves one of the three or four best players in the league. That’s not good math.
Kevin Durant strained his calf a month ago. That could mean all sorts of things, because few of us are calf experts. We determine the severity of an injury by reading the coded language of coaches.
Before Game 1 of the Finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant’s recovery: “His next step is individual court work, so that will be the next priority over the next couple of days.”
Before Game 2, Kerr said: “This is a tricky one … when he’s ready to play, he’ll play.”
Before Game 3: “He’s ramping up his exercise routine, his workouts.”
And before Game 4: “He’s been doing individual work on the court. He’s been in the training room, the weight room.”
Does that sound like someone who’s seriously hurt? The guy who’s lifting weights? It does not. Kerr, however inadvertently, created the impression that Durant was either about to go or malingering.
In Game 5, Durant played for 12 minutes and injured – perhaps tore – his Achilles tendon. That is not a good injury. It is especially not good when you are 30 years old, have been an everyday professional since you were 19 and are a gigantically tall, gangling man.
And it is really especially not a good injury when you are three weeks away from negotiating a supermax contract.
Kobe Bryant, famously a fitness freak, tore his Achilles when he was 34. Before the injury, he was one of the best players in the NBA. Afterward, the most you could say of him was that he was a player in the NBA. This is the sort of injury that takes the “elite” out of elite athlete.
Who’s to blame for this?
After the game, Warriors GM Bob Myers went to the podium (an unusual step) and took the bullet.
“You can blame me,” Myers said, after making sure everyone knew it was a “collaborative” decision. Myers’s voice cracked, and he was near tears throughout his comments.
You feel for the guy. He comes off as very decent. But he’s right. It is his fault. This is why he gets paid so much to say, “See that enormous man over there who moves like a body-building ballet dancer? My superhuman scouting instincts tell me he has potential, basketball-wise.”
If the GM of the best team in the league doesn’t have the sense not to risk his most precarious asset in a series that is statistically already over, then he shouldn’t be a GM. He should be the team’s grief counsellor.
Everyone else who “collaborated” on this decision should also get it in the neck. Who were the physios and doctors who said, “Looks okay to me?” I need to know because I worry I may some day end up in their waiting rooms by accident.
What was Kerr doing? He repeatedly planted the idea that Durant was nearly ready to go. Why not say, “He’s too hurt to play” instead, and then surprise people with Durant’s return?
Underpromise and overdeliver. Everyone in business understands that one. Except, apparently, the people who truly succeed, like Oakland basketball coaches and Silicon Valley basketball team investors.
Durant must be the prime mover in here somewhere. If he had definitively told someone he was not feeling right about playing, they wouldn’t have played him. Not because they care so much, but because that’d look terrible if it got out.
Durant may even have insisted on playing. But what do you expect from a star athlete? They aren’t conditioned to say, “I’m not sure I’m that tough. I’m actually a bit queasy about trying.” They err 180 degrees the other way, regardless of the risk. That’s why they’re star athletes.
That’s also why they have a support team – people who make a great deal of money trailing in their wake – making those decisions for them. Where was Durant’s agent in this? Where was his manager or his personal trainer? Surely, he has some of those. If so, their only real job is protecting their meal ticket. Why didn’t they do that?
Oh well. Get ‘em next time. For all the above named, there are always more remarkable bodies down at the Remarkable Body Store. Women all over the world are making new ones every day.
That’s excepting Durant. He’s not okay. He’s pooched.
Someone will sign him, but only a Candide-level optimist is giving him a four- or five-year supermax now. It’s possible Durant may never play again, and likely that if he does he won’t be the same. For whichever GM gives it to him, that’s a potentially career-killing contract.
The only people who look golden in this are the Toronto Raptors. A lot of gentle fun was made this year about Kawhi Leonard, “load management” and the sciencing-up of how to do jumping jacks in the NBA.
But after missing an entire year in San Antonio and going full blood-feud with the Spurs over it, Leonard plainly believes Toronto’s medical staff has made it possible for him to remain injury-free. When asked what he likes about the team, it’s often the first thing he mentions.
Whenever and wherever Leonard signs, money will be the first factor. Quality of medical care will be second. Since everyone can offer him money, and lots of people – the Warriors, for instance – will offer him flawed medical advice, that may be pivotal.
As such, Kevin Durant didn’t just come out of a game hurt on Monday. He also presented Toronto’s re-up pitch to Kawhi Leonard.
That’s worth more than money. That may even be worth an invitation to the parade.