In Brooklyn, it is not that they’re rejoicing. It’s just that they’re nodding solemnly and knowingly.
That’s because star forward Kevin Durant has suffered an unfortunate ankle injury, which took place during pregame warmups on Wednesday ahead of what was supposed to be his Suns home debut, cutting short his stellar three-game run with the team that saw him averaging 26.7 points on 69.0% shooting, in three straight wins, including a game-winner against the Mavericks.
This was part of the calculation that Nets made when they plunged into a Durant trade at the deadline last month—the fear that while Durant was still stellar as ever when he was on the floor, he was increasingly unavailable because of a series of injuries, especially in his lower legs.
“No one knew he was going to turn his ankle in a layup line, OK?” one Nets source told Heavy Sports. “But there was just an obvious buildup of all the kinds of injuries you do not want to see, the diminishing returns injury kind of stuff. He had that every year he was in Brooklyn so when you look ahead at building your roster, you have to say, we have a star player but we have him for like 60 games, max. That’s a tough way to build.”
Significant Injuries Have Hampered Durant
The Nets did move on from Durant at the deadline, sending him to Phoenix for a package built around Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. There was a notion in Brooklyn that maybe they could hang onto Durant after the trade of Kyrie Irving and give the team one good run at an NBA championship, but the Nets as an organization had grown as weary of Durant as he had of the team—it was Durant who originally asked for a deal last summer, of course.
The recent spate of Durant injuries helped propel the decision for Brooklyn.
Durant missed 20 games this season with an MCL injury in his right knee, which followed 27 games missed last year, mostly because of an MCL sprain in his left knee. He missed 37 games the season before that because of a hamstring injury. Durant had surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon in 2019, and missed all of the 2019-20 season, his first in Brooklyn.
“He’s 34,” the source said. “He is still a terrific player. He is not necessarily a big-time leader but he leads by example—he is such a hard worker. But he’s 34 and you could see there was wear and tear on his body and it was not going to miraculously get better. He could not stay on the floor and there is no sign that is going to change. That was a risk Phoenix was OK with but they had to know there is always going to be that anxiety about if he is able to play.”
Durant Out Till Season’s End?
Getting Durant, for that reason, was a huge risk for Phoenix, because the Suns already have one member of the NBA’s geriatric brigade in the starting lineup—37-year-old Chris Paul, who has also struggled with health and missed time with hip and heel injuries. Keeping everyone healthy enough to get through the postseason is a significant challenge for the Suns.
There was speculation from AZCentral.com that Durant’s injury could keep him out of the rest of the season, and into the start of the playoffs. With just 16 games in the regular season remaining, even if Durant did come back before the end of the season, it would not be long enough to get into a rhythm with the rest of the Suns lineup.
And after surging into the No. 4 spot in the West with an eye on the No. 2 seed in the conference, the Suns now have to be concerned about swinging the other way—Phoenix is only 3.5 games away from the NBA’s play-in tournament.
Phoenix made the Durant deal with the notion that the Western Conference was up for grabs, and that sacrificing young talent like Bridges and Johnson would be worth it for a run to the Finals this year. But Durant’s health was, and is, always going to be a wildcard.
Just ask the Nets.