OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant belongs to history.
Never has a player had this much power with this much uncertainty, with the odds against him of coming back to be the player he was. Teams have spent years planning for the possibility of having Durant join them, only to have this unfortunate injury create murky waters for himself and them — as if free agency isn’t tricky enough.
LeBron James has held the league hostage multiple times with his ability to choose the next stage of his career, but Durant’s future seems so much more chaotic by comparison and, honestly, more intriguing.
James’ motivations in 2010, 2014 and last summer were disparate but also, very clearly, in the moment. That’s not the case for Durant, and he shouldn’t feel compelled to shadow James’ choices.
It’s not only about where Durant goes — if he goes anywhere — but also about the teams that will court him knowing his availability for next season is in doubt, and how he’ll perform in his 30s is no guarantee.
Taking on a player of Durant’s caliber is an easy choice, but who should he be surrounded by? Do you allow him to have a say in bringing in Kyrie Irving and his effect on a Durant-less locker room? And how should a team go about appealing to Durant?
Should he stay with the Warriors? They know him best and they have the personnel to make life easiest for him when he returns, which he’ll need to maximize his remaining greatness.
His initial foray into free agency seemed simple enough as he was contemplating leaving Oklahoma City. Coming up short and being in second place in terms of public perception and on the floor made it an easy sell job for whomever came to visit him in the Hamptons in early July 2016.
He wanted to win a championship and join a culture that played basketball the right way as he saw it. So joining Golden State and moving to the Bay Area presented him with the best chance at winning on the floor, maximizing his burgeoning off-court interests in the business world and taking on the player he measured himself against, James, with a squad capable of filling in the blanks.
But his wants changed as winning didn’t make him happy, with critics ignoring Golden State’s flaws before he came, yet loudly roaring about whose team it was and noting how many regular-season games it piled up in the two years before Durant.
It appeared that having his own team was the easy sell for Durant to escape the shadow Stephen Curry’s presence created — despite Curry’s presence being the chief reason he joined the Warriors.
It’s why all reasonable signs pointed to Durant heading east, possibly to the New York Knicks, with the chance to create his own footprints in a different place, as if winning weren’t the only thing anymore.
But even still, predicting Durant’s movements and moods are a fool’s errand. The only thing left was getting through the foregone conclusion known as the postseason, and that’s where things took their fateful turn.
Lying in a hospital bed causes one to contemplate future choices and past agendas, and Durant’s social-media exploits have already laid bare emotions and feelings most athletes of his standing keep tucked away.
The ultimate basketball junkie will be thinking about plenty as he goes through the early steps of an arduous recovery, but he also must recalibrate his goals, even though it feels more likely than not that he’ll reclaim his standing as one of the league’s best three players with enough time.
But when teams pitch Durant, what will have moved to the forefront of his mind and heart? Is it still the assumption of ownership, of subtle influence, of the pursuit of happiness as he once defined it? Or are stability, winning and health the things that matter most, knowing what lies ahead with his body?
He has so much more to consider due to a choice he made to play in the NBA Finals, possibly due to the whispers about his team’s inability without him, or perhaps his own competitive nature.
He has to factor in training staffs and trusting their plans in the present and future, to not put him in an environment that’s pressing Durant to play before he’s ready — and also to protect him from himself.
Teams can’t afford to let the possibility of chasing Durant pass them by because of a pesky Achilles injury that feels almost tragic in the moment, even though it feels like teams are putting backup plans in motion for more immediate impact next season.
So much has changed in the past few days since Durant’s injury that the NBA’s ever-moving cycle has seemed to forget Kyle Lowry’s incident with Warriors part-owner Mark Stevens and temporarily halted discussion of Kawhi Leonard’s ascent in the league hierarchy.
It’s the type of influence Durant has always craved via his basketball greatness, and all the conversation surrounding him should at least make him feel validated in a sense.
He holds the league in the palm of his hands, still.
Because he belongs to history.
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