Kevin Durant injury news could’ve been worse, but it’s still pretty bad

Perspective has a funny way of shaping the way we feel about facts and events, and that was evident last night in Washington, D.C.

No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump’s speech.

But as the POTUS might tweet, “It took an injury to one of their key players to make the Warriors seem interesting again. Sad!” That’s true, in a more-than-slightly morbid way. The Warriors were rolling right along, set to cruise to the No. 1 overall seed, with everyone waiting until the second round of the playoffs for the first truly interesting chapter of Golden State’s first season with Kevin Durant (or, as the Strength In Numbers loyalists, if any still remain, might say: the first season post-HB/Bogues/Festy/Blur).

Now, if the Warriors are truly as lucky as the rest of the nation always says they are, the second round is when they’ll get Durant back at full strength.

But don’t hold your breath.

Former BASG writer Scott Warfe passed along a USA Today story from 2013 after Marc Gasol suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which listed the recovery times for several players. They were all back after about six weeks, and that ended up being the amount of time Gasol missed as well.

The more serious problem here might be the bone bruise. Bob Myers told the beat writers that the CT scan performed after the MRI provided a little clarity to the situation and allowed the doctors to make a more optimistic diagnosis.

Here’s where perspective shows up again, because the diagnosis is optimistic relative to the initial fear (which Adrian Wojnarowski reported last night) that the injury would end Durant’s season. All we know now is that he should be available at some point — perhaps even during the regular season (don’t hold your breath) and probably during the postseason (we’ll get to that in a second).

But we have no idea when. And that’s not the only problem.

What will post-recovery Durant bring?

Nightmare scenario: the Warriors might find themselves in a position where they’re struggling in an early playoff series and Durant rushes back before he’s his normal, springy self. It’s impossible to determine whether Durant at less than full strength would be as diminished as Curry was when he played through his similar, but less severe, injury last Spring. It could be considered good news that Durant never had knee problems before, so we can’t look at this as some sort of chronic injury. However, we don’t know how much pain he’s in right now either.

What if he can’t come back this season?

A seven-footer just suffered a fairly serious knee injury as the result of an even larger man falling into his knee at a terrible angle. Just because he didn’t tear his ACL doesn’t mean he’ll rest for a month and a half and be good as new. When teams discuss injuries, unless the door is completely shut, they generally lean toward the optimistic view. Nothing is guaranteed here.

But even if he comes back at full strength or close to it …

Bye-bye continuity

There’s a reason why the Warriors aren’t capturing the world’s imagination this season other than Curry’s regression (again: perspective is relevant) and a slightly less gaudy/historic win total. The way they started beating teams became clinical after they learned how to play with one another. It seems like we’ve seen the pattern dozens of times this season: mediocre, almost defense-free first quarter, domination in the second and third quarters, rest.

They lost focus at times. But since Christmas, whenever they wanted to destroy a team they had been able to do so, often in a very rude fashion. Now they’re going to have to figure out how to win in different ways in order to fend off the Spurs. Which brings us to the good news segment of this doomsday post.

The loss of Durant could make them deeper in the playoffs

They avoided what would’ve been an almost nonsensical addition in Jose Calderon when they changed course last night and signed Matt Barnes instead.

(Good on the Warriors for signing and then releasing Calderon instead of going back on their word, but I’m not sure why they wanted a geriatric point guard who plays no defense in the first place. OK, I get it — maybe he can hit an open shot or two and run a halfcourt offense. But slower is never better. Not in today’s NBA, anyway.)

Barnes is a very streaky shooter, but he hasn’t had open looks like the Warriors will give him since … well, ever. He’s still a strong perimeter defender, he can pass, and even though he makes a lot of headlines for getting into scraps away from the court, he’s a very smart player on it. Maybe he can even switch from his favored number (22) to 40 instead to save the Warriors some money on jerseys. Wait, those BARNES No. 40s are cursed ever since the 2016 NBA Finals. Never mind.

The Warriors have been very gentle with young Patrick McCaw, almost nurturing, but now it’s time for him to grow up in a big way (as a player — he seems pretty mature as a person). McCaw won’t have to pick up much of the scoring load, as that’ll mostly be handled by Curry, Klay Thompson, and especially Draymond Green, who has barely looked for his own offense all season. But McCaw will likely start as many games at small forward as he can handle, and his minutes could be extremely valuable if he grows into a trusted postseason rotation player as a result.

Steph the Killer back?

I tweeted this yesterday in response to an Ethan Strauss tweet about Durant’s injury perhaps not being incredibly serious.

Maybe Curry will never reach the same peak we saw last season again … but if it’s still there, we’ll almost certainly see it over the last part of the season.

His team hasn’t really needed for him to do anything besides play as well as he did before 2015 and not rock the boat. Now, for the first time since June, his challenge is to put the Warriors on his back.

That’s part of what makes the team a little more interesting now than it was 24 hours ago. Can he still do it? I’m pretty sure he can, despite some oddly terrible shooting over the last couple of games.

Final analysis: 

Sorry to the optimists out there, but even with such a great collection of talent, the road to a championship is laden with potholes.

The Warriors seemingly had only one thing approaching a weakness before yesterday — their inconsistency at the end of close games.

Now they’re going to have to figure out a way to win most of their games without Durant, then reintegrate him during the most pressure-packed time of the year, while hoping that he’ll still do the things that made him an MVP candidate before Zaza Pachulia fell into his left knee last night. If he isn’t able to return in time for a second round matchup with the Rockets, Golden State’s playoff run could end up being shorter than any of us imagined.

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