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Kevin Durant's 2014-15 season is officially over.
The Oklahoma City Thunder announced Friday afternoon that Durant, the league's reigning Most Valuable Player, will be shut down for the remainder of the season so that he can have another surgical procedure on his injured right foot, his third such surgery in the span of six months. He is expected to resume basketball activities in four to six months, according to Thunder general manager Sam Presti.
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Presti had announced last Friday that Durant would be "removed from basketball activities" following a setback in practice. Over the last week, which had been earmarked for "consultation and evaluation regarding the persistent soreness in his right foot," Durant and team personnel visited with a pair of specialists, according to a team statement issued Friday.
"These in-person consults were designed to further supplement the previous evaluations of Dr. Bob Anderson," Presti wrote in the team statement. "Several conference calls and discussions amongst the specialist team concluded that, while the majority of the soreness in Kevin's foot was related to the continued inflammation of the cuboid bone and would subside with rest, the evaluation process also determined that the Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal, which had shown significant healing previously, was now demonstrating signs of regression.
"With the focus of this process being aimed entirely on Kevin's long term health and stability, it was the consensus of the specialists team, in addition to a collective decision by Kevin, his representation and the Thunder, that to address the setback of the fracture site, a bone graft procedure would be the most proactive and recommended approach," Presti added.
Such grafts are apparently standard procedure for the "5 to 8 percent" of Jones fracture surgeries that don't result in initial success. Durant will have the surgery early next week in New York; he won't be back on the court until late summer, at the earliest.
Durant, 26, was limited to just 27 games after suffering a Jones fracture to his right foot just before the start of the 2014-15 NBA season. (He had missed only 16 regular-season games total during his first seven professional seasons.) He returned to the Thunder lineup in early December, making nine appearances before landing back on the shelf for last two weeks of the month with a sprained right ankle.
After coming back on New Year's Eve with a 44-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist explosion against the Phoenix Suns, Durant largely looked the fire of old. He averaged 27.8 points in 36.6 minutes per game on his signature stellar shooting splits (51.1 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from 3-point land, 84.3 percent from the foul line) through the All-Star break, joining with Westbrook to help lead OKC to a 13-8 finish to the first half that got the Thunder back in the hunt for a playoff berth after an injury-plagued 3-12 start.
The issues with Durant's surgically repaired foot never fully subsided, though. He played just 10 minutes in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game and suited up for only one post-All-Star-break contest — a Feb. 19 win over the Dallas Mavericks — before exiting with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter. Three days later, Durant underwent another procedure on the foot, this time to replace a screw in the foot that had been causing the persistent discomfort.
Durant spent the ensuing weeks continuing to rehab and work his way back to health in the hope of returning to the lineup to aid the Thunder's push for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. New concerns arose last Thursday, though, as Durant sat out Thunder practice "with another bout of soreness in his surgically repaired right foot." A day after that latest setback, Presti ruled Durant out indefinitely, saying, "He's not making the progress we had hoped."
The end of Durant's season comes as Oklahoma City continues to play without power forward and chief interior defender Serge Ibaka, who underwent surgery to "alleviate the soreness and swelling he had been experiencing" in his right knee; starting shooting guard Andre Roberson, who's sidelined for two to three weeks with a sprained right ankle; and veteran reserve Nick Collison, who's out with a sprained left ankle.
The Thunder's chances of securing that eighth and final playoff spot — they enter Friday's action at 41-31, three games ahead of the ninth-place Phoenix Suns, with 10 games remaining — and springing an all-time upset of whichever top-flight squad they face (likely the Golden State Warriors, perhaps the Memphis Grizzlies or Houston Rockets) now fall squarely on the shoulders of Russell Westbrook. The All-Star guard has been sensational in carrying the Oklahoma City offense over the course of the last couple of months; he will need to be even more so to keep the Thunder from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009, and to avoid Oklahoma City's first opening-round knockout since 2010.
The cold, hard reality that Durant will not be coming back this season also confirms what many noted upon the injury to Ibaka and Durant's initial shutdown — that the much-discussed "scariest No. 8 seed ever" won't actually exist. For the third straight year, a Thunder team that entered the season expecting to return to the NBA Finals has seen its championship hopes squashed by a brutal, unconquerable injury to one of its three most important players.
As a result, as Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote last week, Oklahoma City "has likely lost its last chance to chase a ring with Durant before he becomes the most talked-about expiring contract since LeBron James in 2009-10."
The Thunder will put on a brave face. They will say they are confident, that they look forward to the opportunity — how’s that for reframing? — to show Durant that they’re the team for him. But don’t let the false bravado fool you. They know Durant leaving is in play. They know the cap landscape. They were the loudest non-Philly voice against lottery reform, whipping up a frenzy of small-market panic. They traded future first-round picks for Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter in separate deals, and though those players are young and the picks protected, those are the sort of win-now moves the Thunder hadn’t engaged in until this season. They are the mark of a team that knows time is precious — that failure today carries a scary downside that is no longer so far in the distance. [...]
The Thunder are right to be confident of their place in pole position of the Durant sweepstakes, even with Durant’s hometown Wizards hoarding cap space. But Durant is now effectively an expiring contract, and impending free agency at that late stage can take unpredictable turns. You just never know. This season was Oklahoma City’s last grasp at certainty, and it’s gone now.
Such concerns, however, pale in comparison to the daunting long-term specter of Durant — one of the most dynamic, magnetic, compelling and unstoppable offensive forces in NBA history, a player who fully came into his own across the board last season, only to see it all fall apart before getting a chance to run it all back — having the remaining years of his prime curtailed by the sort of consistent foot issues that have scuttled the careers of so many other talented big men in the past. For the time being, we'll have to take whatever solace we can find in the news that the bone-graft approach provides the best chance of safe healing, and hope that Durant's evident status as one of those 5 percent to 8 percent of people unlucky enough not to get the hoped-for result from the initial procedure doesn't bode ill for the third time around.
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