Are the Warriors Doomed Without Kevin Durant?

by Taylor Smith
on March 1, 2017

The Golden State Warriors received some bad news on Wednesday when they announced that All-Star forward Kevin Durant will be sidelined indefinitely with an MCL sprain and a bone bruise in his left knee.

While the news isn’t as bad as some feared, it’s still quite the hefty blow to a team looking to win its second championship in the last three years. Are they totally screwed as a result of this? No, not likely. Still, this team was built with the “Big Four” in mind, and one of them going down certainly throws a wrench into things.

The Warriors Know How to Win Without KD

This team did a whole lot of winning before Kevin Durant ever showed up. They won 73 regular season games last year and won the title the year before that. Literally every team in NBA history that has won a championship did so without Kevin Durant, so this is far from a death blow to the Warriors.

Still, it sounds ominous when the team says he will be “out indefinitely.” Indefinitely means there is no true timetable. The Warriors say there’s a chance he could return prior to the start of the postseason, but they don’t sound like that’s particularly likely, either.

Could the Injury Linger?

How long is this going to linger? We saw Durant endure foot troubles two seasons ago that limited him to just 27 games while he was with the Thunder. An MCL sprain is good news compared to an ACL tear, but this is still a serious injury that is going to take a lot of time to heal.

Just ask the Sixers and Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons about injury timetables. Ask Utah’s Derrick Favors about recovery time for a bone bruise. He missed significant time earlier this season nursing that injury, and he still isn’t fully healthy several months later.

Because the Warriors were so hell-bent on landing Durant as a free agent last summer, they had to effectively tear down the rest of the roster to accommodate their current star-studded group. Andrew Bogut is gone. Harrison Barnes is gone. Even worker bees like Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli had to be jettisoned.

Golden State was able to restock the cupboard a bit by nabbing a few ring-hungry veterans, but this club isn’t as deep as it was a season ago. With so much money committed to Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, they are largely inflexible when it comes to building a roster around them.

As a result, the Warriors are going to have to throw some unproven names into the fire. Durant’s injury almost surely means more minutes for rookie Pat McCaw and sharpshooter Ian Clark. Veteran David West is far from an unproven name, but we don’t really know how capable of playing big minutes he still is at this point in his career. Regardless, the Warriors are going to need his size with Durant’s seven-foot frame out of the picture for the next several weeks.

Defensive Absence

What the Warriors will really miss will be Durant’s defense. In the absence of a true, rim-protecting center, Durant has emerged as a viable paint-patrolling big man this season. He was never tasked with doing so during his time in OKC, but KD is plenty capable of handling big men in the post defensively and providing weak-side help coverage.

The defensive versatility is what Golden State will miss the most. Scoring won’t be a problem with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson floating around the perimeter. They also have another versatile defensive wizard in Draymond Green. They just have no backup option that gives them the kind of all-around, two-way production that Durant does, and it’s a huge part of what they’ve become this season.

They will need him defensively against teams like the Clippers and Rockets. Durant has the mobility to hang with Houston’s wingers, and the size necessary to try and guard someone like Blake Griffin down on the block. If he’s gone, rim protection is a major issue for Golden State.

Can They Get Him Back For the Postseason?

It all really comes down to whether Durant will be healthy enough to return for the playoffs. The timing of the injury is really cutting it close. Even if , the Dubs should have more than enough to take down whichever joke of a team winds up snagging the West’s No. 8 seed. It appears likely to be a team that won’t even crack .500, so even a shorthanded Dubs squad should have no issues getting through round one.

Beyond that, though, things will get murky. Golden State has run circles around the rest of the league this season when at full strength, but, as we saw during the last postseason, nothing is guaranteed come playoff time.

San Antonio is strong. Houston is strong. The Clippers, if they can manage to be fully healthy for once, are also strong. The Jazz and Grizzlies are also two teams that seem to have the formula for beating the Warriors. Golden State may be the top dogs, but even if Durant is back it’s no guarantee that they scoot through the Western Conference playoffs unimpeded. There is some serious talent out there this year.

The Warriors lost the Finals last year in part because Steph Curry’s knee wasn’t 100 percent healthy. He went down late in the first-round series against Houston, missed a few games and wasn’t quite the same upon his return. That isn’t completely unlike the current situation with Durant, and if KD doesn’t come back fully healthy, this whole thing could be torpedoed rather quickly.

Golden State Will Likely be Fine in the End

Should Warriors fans panic? Doubtful. To be honest, a sprained MCL with a bone bruise is probably the best news that could’ve come from Durant’s MRI. Considering the Dubs feared the worst and preemptively agreed to sign Matt Barnes to take Durant’s place, the entire Bay Area should feel some relief that his ACL is still fully operational.

If all goes according to plan, Durant will return prior to the end of the season, play a few tune-up games and be good to go for the first round. However, injuries can be unpredictable. Some guys come back quicker than expected, while others take longer to heal.

Let’s say the Warriors take the uber cautious approach and rest Durant through the first round of the playoffs. Then he comes back healthy for round two, only to be incredibly rusty. That would be a layoff of over a month-and-a-half. Even the best players in the world won’t come back in the purest of forms from day one. It takes time to get back into game shape and into the rhythm of playing actual games. Practice time can only simulate so much of that.

While this diagnosis may come as a relief to some with the team, there is still a chance that this injury winds up coming back to haunt the Warriors once the playoffs roll around. The West is no cakewalk this year, and even if Golden State is able to emerge as conference champs, the Cavaliers are likely to be there awaiting them in the Finals.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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