It’s admirable that Golden State fought to the very end of the NBA Finals, never giving up hope, but by going all-in the Warriors have sabotaged their dynasty and opened the door for the rest of the West to stake their own claim next season.
And it didn’t have to happen. Whether Kevin Durant stayed or left in free agency this team had a chance to get back to the Finals again next season if only they could have accepted their inevitable defeat at the hands of the Raptors.
Now, instead of trying to re-sign a healthy Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to new long-term deals in July, the Warriors are now faced with some very difficult decisions.
There should be no argument that the dozen minutes Durant gave to the Warriors in game five before he was injured wasn’t critical if not the major reason their season was extended to a game six. However, it doesn’t even take hindsight to question if Durant should have played at all. The words coming from head coach Steve Kerr the day before made it obvious this was a bad idea.
“He’s going to practice with us today,” Kerr said when asked if Durant was any closer to being able to play. “He’ll get some extra work in with some of our younger players. We’ll gauge it from there.
“what he’s going to do today he hasn’t done”
So Durant, who hadn’t played since the second round of the playoffs and had just been cleared to practice with some of the young guys for the first time since then, was under serious consideration to play in the NBA Finals. If that isn’t rolling the dice, what is?
Even Kerr had words of caution, words he choose to ignore, immediately prior to the start of game five.
“We’ll start him and play him in short bursts and see how he responds physically,” Kerr explained. “I don’t want to put too much of a burden on him. It’s been a while, we don’t know how it’s going to go.”
Well, now we know.
Durant started and played six minutes before Kerr subbed him out for a brief 2 minute 17 second rest before putting him back in for his final six minutes before tearing his Achilles.
It’s easy to understand the pressure Kerr was under, the Warriors were a lot better with Durant on the court, but those weren’t short bursts, Durant was carrying a heavy burden and everyone knew it.
The Warriors had gone all-in for a chance to turn a Finals on the verge of slipping away around and while no one could have predicted the specific terrible injury that Durant suffered, it’s hardly a stretch to say everyone knew there was a real risk of something bad happening.
There never should have been a game six back in Oracle. This series should have ended in Toronto in game five and no reasonable person would have blamed Durant for not playing or Kerr, the medical staff or President Bob Myers for holding him out.
“You can blame me,” Myers said after the game.
No problem, as the person responsible for Warriors basketball operations, Myers is ultimately to blame.
The unforeseen impact of Durant’s sacrifice in game five was the Warriors would lose Klay Thompson to a torn ACL in game six. While there’s no one to blame or even second guess when it comes to Thompson’s injury, it occurred in a game that, but for going all-in, never would have been played.
Both Durant and Thompson are expected to miss most of, if not the entire, 2019-20 NBA season and while Durant could opt in to his $31 million player option and potentially allow the Warriors to cover part of his salary with insurance, both players are anticipated to enter free agency expecting max deals to be on the table for them.
Without at least one of Durant or Thompson playing next season the Warriors will be knocked down a peg and the the cost to keep both players on new max contracts represents a financial burden even a billionaire will find tough to swallow. Ownership will face some very tough decisions this July.
However, you can’t be mad at Golden State for going all-in, that’s what every fan hopes their franchise is willing to do when it comes to winning Championships, but it came at a cost. This five year dynasty has been sabotaged and it will take a huge financial commitment and no small measure of luck to get it back to the level it was at prior to game five in Toronto.