Durant’s Achilles could be Nets’ big pain
Potential free agent superstar’s injury might spoil GM Marks’ plan
The Nets dumped underperforming high-paid guard Allen Crabbe last Thursday in a move designed to clear more salary-cap space for this summer’s free-agent bonanza.
But only four days later, arguably the most coveted of those superstars more than likely fell off Brooklyn’s shopping list.
Kevin Durant’s devastating Achilles injury, which could keep him out for the entirety of next season if it is diagnosed as a tear, turned his return to Golden State’s lineup for Game 5 of the NBA Finals from a heroic show of bravery to an unfortunate decision for a player who could command a max contract next month.
Of course, Brooklyn was no shoo-in to ink the former NBA Most Valuable Player and two-time Finals MVP once he opted out of his current pact with the two-time defending champion Warriors on July 1.
The arch-rival New York Knicks are also reportedly in play for Durant, who could stay in Golden State for another season while he heals up to the tune of just over $30 million.
But the Knicks don’t have one of his potential running mates on their radar as the Nets do.
According to several published reports, Boston’s Kyrie Irving, who will also hit free agency in three weeks, is very interested in becoming a Net, and has been recruiting Durant to do the same.
Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks swapped Crabbe, along with the 17th pick in the upcoming NBA Draft at Barclays Center and a protected 2020 first-rounder to Atlanta last week for forward Taurean Prince and a 2021 second-round selection.
He did it to get rid of Crabbe’s burdensome $18 million contract, the highest salary among all Nets players last season.
With that extra money and the ability to renounce free-agent-to-be D’Angelo Russell, the Nets were in serious play to land Irving as well as Durant, if the tandem decided they’d rather be on a team coming off a playoff appearance here in Brooklyn rather than one in seemingly perpetual disarray across the Hudson.
But those hopes were likely dashed in the second quarter of Game 5 in Toronto when Durant limped off the floor with something that appeared to be much worse than the calf injury that had sidelined him for most of the postseason.
The Nets have also been rumored to be interested in acquiring New Orleans center Anthony Davis via a potential sign-and-swap that could include Russell, who is also in the market for a maximum contract in his first foray into free agency this summer.
Pairing Davis and Irving, if Durant is no longer a serious option, would still give Brooklyn its most lethal duo since the franchise relocated here in 2012.
It also would spell the end of Russell’s tenure here after the once enigmatic guard turned into the team’s undisputed floor leader during the push to the Nets’ first playoff appearance in four years and first winning season in half a decade.
Crabbe, who averaged just under 10 points per contest while playing 43 games last season due to nagging injury issues, never quite found his groove here in Brooklyn, despite being given numerous opportunities by head coach Kenny Atkinson.
His departure appeared to free the Nets up to do whatever they wanted in free agency this summer, including keeping Russell and pairing him with Irving, but the injury to Durant has NBA GMs scrambling to figure out their next move.
Marks, who has helped the Nets return to relevancy after several years at the bottom of the standings, must make his decisions even more wisely now that there is serious money on the table for Brooklyn to spend.
The franchise’s patient, player development-oriented rebuild has been a great success, making Downtown an attractive destination for players to not only earn maximum dollars but to pursue an NBA title.
“People are going to want to play here,” Marks noted shortly after the Nets were eliminated from the opening round of the playoffs by Philadelphia.
“They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”
They may have had Irving and Durant as well, if not for an injury that could impact their decision-making this summer and for years to come.
Nothing But Net: Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Philadelphia’s Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton will also be on the open market in a few weeks. … Despite giving up their highest pick in the June 20 NBA Draft at Barclays Center in the Crabbe deal, the Nets still have the 27th and 31st picks.
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