- Nick Wass/AP
The Golden State Warriors announced on Wednesday that Kevin Durant is out for at least four weeks with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and bone bruise.
While the injury may put the Warriors’ depth to test and make their hold on the No. 1 seed a little tougher, the injury could have huge ramifications on an unsuspecting team, the Indiana Pacers.
If Durant doesn’t play the rest of the regular season, he’ll have played 59 (very good) games with the Warriors this season. Durant has averaged 25 points, eight rebounds, and five assists per game while shooting 53% from the floor and 38% from three. He’s also put together one of the best defensive seasons of his career.
That should be enough to earn him an All-NBA spot, but if it doesn’t, it may open the door for Pacers star forward Paul George. That spot opening up could be critical to the Pacers’ future.
This summer, the Pacers may have a chance to offer George the “Designated Player Extension” (or DPE), a new CBA rule that allows teams to offer gigantic extensions worth 35% of the cap (the maximum possible) to star players in the first year of the deal. The extension for George would be worth about $212 million over six years, according to Nat Newell of the Indy Star.
To earn the extension, players have to be named to an All-NBA team, MVP, or Defensive Player of the Year the year before. This is where George is on shaky ground. To date, Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler have all had better seasons than George. With two forward spots on each of the three All-NBA teams, George would be out of the running and, thus, wouldn’t qualify for the DPE.
However, if voters decide Durant hasn’t played enough games to earn an All-NBA spot, and if George were to finish the season on a hot streak, that could change things. Of course, George would have competition from other players, such as Utah’s Gordon Hayward, but being eligible for the DPE could be a huge leg-up for the Pacers.
Near the trade deadline last Thursday, USA Today’s Sam Amick reported that George is “determined” to join the Los Angeles Lakers (his hometown team) as a free agent in 2018 if the Pacers aren’t competing for a championship. While it seems unlikely the Pacers could make such a leap in a year, being able to offer George such a massive extension could entice George to stay, especially when a deal with the Lakers would be for significantly less.
Knowing what could be on the line doesn’t make voting much easier for media members with votes, as ESPN’s Zach Lowe noted:
This is an icky subplot that matters for the Pacers. Voting All-NBA just feels weird now. https://t.co/7nnaqRRcKT
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) March 1, 2017
This is a flaw in the DPE rules – it’s still reliant on media members. While voting results haven’t often been controversial, players’ earnings and potentially teams’ futures, could hinge on these votes.
It will be an interesting race to watch down the stretch of the season. It may not matter if voters feel Durant has done enough in two-thirds of the season to lock down a spot. But if George has a strong finish and helps the Pacers earn a playoff spot, the voting could get tighter. And for the Pacers, there could be a lot riding on this finish.