SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Injured superstar Kevin Durant, who will likely be sidelined for the 2019-2020 NBA season rehabilitating a torn Achilles tendon, has declined a player option to stay on the Golden State Warriors payroll and earn $31.5 million, according to an ESPN report.
ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowaski tweeted that “Durant and his business manager Rich Kleiman are in New York, evaluating free agency options. So far, process has stayed private.”
Turning down the option was expected. Speculation has been running rampant about Durant’s future involving a number of NBA teams including the Warriors, the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The move now opens the door for free agent bidding for Durant’s services beginning on Sunday. If he were to stay with the Warriors, Golden State can offer him a max deal of $221 million over five years.
The most the Knicks, Nets, Clippers or any other team can offer is a four-year, $164 million deal.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP went down with an injured calf in Game 5 of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals. He returned to the lineup for a most-win Game 5 of the NBA Finals after missing nine straight playoffs games.
Durant played brilliantly, scoring 11 points before his Achilles gave out while making a move on the court. He underwent surgery in New York to reattach the Achilles and was expected to miss all or nearly all of the 2019-2020 season.
Warriors GM Bob Myers was asked about Durant and the team’s other key free agent Klay Thompson while introducing the team’s NBA draft picks to the Bay Area Monday.
When asked if the team planned to talk with the pair, Myers said only “Yes.”
When it came to assessing his level of optimism both players will be with the Warriors, Myers simply shrugged his shoulders.
“We’ll see,” Myers said.
Wednesday’s announcement was enough to make some Warriors fans blue.
“He’s leaving. It breaks my heart,” said Warriors supporter Carey Sageplke.
However, in the sports world, Durant’s decision to become a free agent starting Sunday wasn’t a total shock.
“It’s not a surprise. This is about him getting as much money as he can. Now he has the option of going somewhere else for four years,” said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing analyst and creative director of Baker Street Advertising. “I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d say you’ve seen the last of Kevin Durant in a Warriors uniform.”
Darryl “The Guru” Johnson with sports talk radio station 95.7FM The Game was a bit more optimistic.
“To me, this is just part of the process. And a lot of people wanted the answer today. We’re taking calls and getting text messages as if it’s over. But I’m here to tell you it’s not. So just think positive,” said Johnson.
Some Warriors fans were holding on to hope.
“When he sprained his calf, Curry referred to him as his brother,” said Warriors fan Brandon Donaldson. “He was like, ‘My brother is back there, I don’t know what’s wrong with him.’ So I think they have such a good bond that I think Kevin Durant is trying to maximize his money just like any player would do.”
Others like Sageplke were not.
“It makes me really sad to think that we’re gonna lose KD and the dynasty is kind of breaking up a little bit,” she said. “You can kinda feel that shift. It’s a game, but you can feel the shift.”