Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> The Thunder have removed Kevin Durant from basketball-related activities and say he is out indefinitely, still bothered by the injury to his right foot. What does this latest setback mean for Durant? For the Thunder?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I think Durant’s extended absence means OKC is not a top threat to emerge from the killer Western Conference this spring, if it makes the postseason at all. That team has shifted and adapted too much – to injuries and to Russell Westbrook-palooza – to reconfigure itself on the fly for an extended playoff run. It also means everything will be on the line in 2015-16 for the Thunder as that franchise takes its last big shot at a championship before Durant hits free agency.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It means that Durant should temper thoughts of macho heroics and take the longer view of his career. If he can return for the playoffs without doing further damage, fine. But if it’s a risk, starting planning for training camp in October. That goes squared for Thunder management. Heading into the last year of his contract next season, it’s all about the personal connection between Durant and the franchise and GM Sam Presti knows that.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: That it’s probably time to think about next season. We won’t know for sure until the medical bulletins just before the playoffs, but if the Thunder can’t even set a timetable when he will be back, the latest problem is a significant setback. Get him in a good place for the start of 2015-16. One-hundred percent, with no uncertainty. As much as Russell Westbrook is playing in another stratosphere right now, chances are slim that OKC could make a long run with Durant having little or no prep time before the postseason, along with the other injury concerns. If there is any doubt about the ability of the first to hold up through a series or two this spring, focus on the big picture.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I always thought this was a lost year for OKC anyway, based only on karma. Something always seemed to go wrong for OKC and, specifically, Westbrook and Durant, in terms of health. Even if Durant hadn’t suffered this latest setback, the Thunder would’ve faced a tough first-round matchup with the Warriors. In the short term, his injury hurts, obviously. In the long-term, unless the injury is chronic, I can’t see why OKC can’t return to normal right away.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Both parties need to prioritize the future over this season, which will, at best, finish in a first round defeat at the hands of the best team (statistically) since the 1995-96 Bulls. And that means that they need to have a conversation about Durant’s future. He’s got one more year on his contract, and if he has plans to leave, his team needs to know about them now.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It means Durant should begin his offseason program now rather than weeks from now if and when the Thunder are eliminated from the playoffs. Now is not the time for Durant to take foolish risks with his body, not after all of the peculiar injury issues that have gone on around the league this season. For the Thunder it means you trudge on for the remainder of this season with Mr. Triple-Double himself, Russell Westbrook, creating chaos for the opposition. Any dreams of an upset in the playoffs seem to be just that, dreaming.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: If healthy and whole, I’d been thinking they could win the championship from the No. 8 seed. What Durant’s continuing absence means is more speculation than ever about his free agency in 2016, most of it premature and unfounded. The reality is that OKC still has Russell Westbrook, who is going to be focused on the here-and-now of trying to upset Golden State – and who’s to say that he can’t, with nothing to lose and the Warriors carrying so much pressure as the heavy favorite?
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: For Durant, it means he needs to sit down and get healthy before he even starts thinking about returning. Durant is crucial to the Thunder’s attack, but that means not just this season, but for as long as Durant is wearing a Thunder uniform. For the Thunder, I just hope they resist any urge to hurry Durant back. I know the summer of 2016 looms large on the horizon, but to me, the best sales pitch to get Durant to re-sign is to put together a championship team. And there is no way that winning a title in Oklahoma City doesn’t involve a healthy Kevin Durant.