When Kevin Durant went down with a torn Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Warriors general manager Bob Myers cried. He sat up at the podium in front of a sea of reporters, and he cried, genuinely, perhaps regretfully, and if nothing else, it was very clear how much Myers and the Warriors care about Durant.
Which begged the question: Why let him play?
Durant, of course, had been dealing with what was diagnosed as a mildly strained calf. The innocuous wording of that diagnosis is important. You can't call something mild and expect people not to question why an athlete is sitting out weeks beyond the original timetable for return, in the NBA Finals no less. Reporters all but questioned Durant's commitment to the team. Suggested if it were another Warriors player -- say Klay Thompson or Kevon Looney or Stephen Curry -- would the team still be waiting on them?
Thompson, after all, was playing with a strained hamstring. Looney was playing with a broken rib. Curry hadn't missed any time with a dislocated finger that he'd repeatedly re-aggravated. We now know that what Durant was dealing with was far different than any of those injuries, that returning to play on a partially healed calf could, and obviously did, lead to a fully torn Achilles tendon. But did the Warriors know that at the time?
If they did know, they acted irresponsibly.
If they didn't know, then they should have.
When Durant's original injury happened, Dr. Alan Beyer, orthopedic surgeon and executive medical director at the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Southern California, warned CBS Sports that the worst-case scenario was very much in play.
"He would regret that decision the rest of his career," Dr. Beyer told CBS Sports at the time.
And now here we are.
Looking back, it's almost eerie how accurately Dr. Beyer's warnings played out. Hindsight is 20-20, yes, but in Dr. Beyer's opinion, the tenuousness of Durant's injury, to a medical eye, was evident from the start. Or at least it should have been. The worst-case scenario happening has merely led to questions that might never have been asked had the Warriors and Durant gotten away with their gamble.
Was Durant's injury more Achilles than calf to begin with, and thus misdiagnosed from the start? Or did the Warriors simply depict a rosier picture than the reality? Either way, they did Durant a huge disservice, continually painting the injury with a "mild" brush while letting speculation run rampant that Durant was somehow shunning his team when they needed him most.
After Durant blew out his Achilles and watched his career change forever, Myers was in tears over how the media portrays Durant. Why not come to his defense when people were attacking his "heart" and "guts" before he was pressured into returning before he was ready? Seems like a simple statement, at any point during the initial recovery, that the injury was not "mild" and the chance of re-injury was "significant" would have gone a long way in alleviating the pressure on Durant to live up to some tough-guy standard.
But apparently, that's not the Warriors way. In fact, Andre Iguodala dropped something of a bombshell on Tuesday when he said the Warriors knowingly downplayed the significance of his injury when his status for the 2018 Finals was in doubt, saying that Iguodala was dealing with a "bone bruise" when in fact his leg was fractured. Have a listen. It's pretty damning stuff.
"Everyone is feeding stuff in our head, 'When KD coming back?' " Iguodala said. "Last year it happened to me. I missed the last three games of the Houston series. It goes to Game 7, we barely get out of that series. Now they're looking at me like, 'When are you coming back?' I had a fractured leg, but it's being put out there like, he's got a bone bruise. ... I'm fighting with the team, I'm fighting with people, I'm fighting with the media. Then my teammates ask me every day, 'How you feeling, how you feeling?'"
So if the Warriors effectively lied about Iguodala's injury in 2018, are we to believe they told the truth about Durant in 2019? You can understand the dot-connecting here, and it doesn't look good.
"Since this happened, I've given this a lot of thought," Dr. Beyer told CBS Sports after Durant tore his Achilles. "Now, I preface this by saying I do not have the luxury of having examined Durant or seen any of the MRI scans or any of that stuff, so this is just kind of playing detective from afar. But you look at the evidence, I don't think this was purely a calf injury from the get go. I think it was down lower, near what we call the musculotendinous junction, where the calf attaches to the Achilles.
"I say this for a couple reasons. First, you can just go back and look at where Durant was icing his leg when he was off the court. It wasn't up high. That ice was wrapped low, down near the Achilles. Also, if you look at how long it was taking him to recover from the initial injury, there's not as good of blood supply when you get down lower, down around the Achilles, as there is up in the belly of the calf, so recovery happens at a slower pace.
"So that's my hypothesis. The original injury was closer to the Achilles, the Warriors likely knew this, and they made a calculated decision that the reward was worth the risk, so to speak. I'm not going to say what went into that decision or who was involved or any of that, because I wasn't in the room. None of us were. But yeah, calling it a calf strain from the start, and a mild one at that, I think they were trying to paint a rosy picture like he'll be back soon, this isn't that big a deal, when in fact I think that the injury was always more serious than the Warriors let on."
If this is the case, you can understand if Durant was, or is, angry with the Warriors, who effectively hung him out to dry -- if not from a medical standpoint in misdiagnosing the original injury or simply not understanding the risk of re-injury, then certainly from a PR standpoint in not conveying the seriousness of the situation to the public.
Through this lens, Myers crying in front of a sea of reporters makes a lot more sense. Injuries happen. They suck. But you don't often see emotion like that from an executive. To think there's some level of guilt involved, considering all we know, isn't exactly a stretch.
But feeling bad can't change what happened. It can't change the fact that Durant is going to miss a full season in the middle of his prime and may never be the same player again. But the way this was all handled might have an impact on what jersey he's wearing when he finally does suit up again. Per Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher:
The indication from several league sources is that Durant is not happy with the team, and the presumption is that it stems from whatever role Warriors officials played in his decision to suit up.
Coach Steve Kerr says he was told Durant could not further injure himself by playing, which obviously proved not to be true. If Durant was told the same, it would give credence to the notion that, as one league executive claims, "He's really pissed off at the Warriors."
To be fair, there are conflicting reports on this. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski says there has been no breakdown of trust between Durant and the Warriors, and in fact, the way this injury played out, and the way it could change the narrative of Durant's career, could perhaps put the Warriors in a BETTER position to re-sign him than they were in pre-injury. Here's what Woj told Zach Lowe on Tuesday:
"It's changed the narrative for Kevin Durant in Golden State. It goes from a player who didn't get credit for jumping on board of a 73-win team; the narrative that he wasn't crucial to winning there.
"Well, you saw that he was. And now this becomes something that's never been there -- an underdog story, a comeback story. By the time Kevin Durant would play again in the NBA, two teams would have won championships that aren't the Warriors.
"Now, they're a team people are rooting for. Now, Kevin Durant is the builder in Golden State. And the adulation that I think maybe wasn't there for him in Golden State, it's going to be there. He's a beloved figure there for what he came back and did -- the injury that he sustained when he took great risk to play for that team.
"He's not going on the road anywhere in the NBA again where they are holding up cupcake signs and cupcake t-shirts. No one's ever calling Kevin Durant a cupcake again. That does change the narrative and the story for KD in Golden State.
"Now, is that enough to get him to stay there? We don't know that yet. But they have a better case to make post-injury than they did pre-injury."
Either way, these are two different things. What Woj says makes a lot of sense about Durant having a new spin on his Warriors story, but that doesn't mean the Warriors still didn't make an irresponsible, if not uniformed decision to put Durant back out there too soon. Both things can be true. And if Durant does leave the Warriors, it doesn't mean it's because he doesn't trust them. He was expected to leave long before he got hurt, and Vegas currently lists the Nets at the favorite to land Durant. For now, it's all information meant to fuel speculation, but information nonetheless. Take it for what it's worth.