Sometimes, a player can get injured, even catastrophically, sit out a season, come back, and return to the form they enjoyed before they got hurt, noticing no dropoff in performance that anyone is able to measure statistically.
An Achilles tendon rupture, which Kevin Durant suffered during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, is not one of those injuries that players typically come back from.
Here’s a list of the All-Stars besides Durant who have torn Achilles tendons, according to collected sources from a Google search that all seemed to be working from the same data set:
Now, this is a small sample size, but let’s start from the bottom, so to speak, and work our way up.
Thomas ruptured his Achilles at age 32; he never played another NBA game, already on the downside of his career before the injury happened. The 1993-94 season, his last, was the only season of his 13-year career where he failed to make the All-Star Game.
Bryant blew out his Achilles in 2013 at age 34, came back for six games in the 2013-14 season, got hurt again, then had two of the most utterly putrid shooting seasons in NBA history (he shot 37.3 percent in 2014-15 and 29,3 from three, then shot 35.8 and 28.5 on his farewell tour in 2015-16.)
Billups nuked his Achilles in 2012; he played only 41 more games in his career and posted a 5.3 PER for Detroit in his own 19-game farewell tour in the 2013-14 season. He was 35 when he wiped out his Achilles.
Okur was 30 when he ruined his Achilles in the first game of the playoffs in 2010; he played just 30 more games in his career, his stats falling completely off a cliff, before he retired after the 2012 season.
Laettner tore his Achilles in 1999; he had actually been an All-Star in 1997 with the Hawks, but he was never anything close to that level after his comeback, averaging double-digit points per game only once and only putting up even one above-average season (2003 in Washington, when he had an old Michael Jordan as a teammate and put up 2.6 VORP, the same as he’d posted in the year before he got hurt.)
So he got back to only merely “decent” once in six tries after being an All-Star in one year and a solid borderline All-Star in most of the rest of his pre-injury career, held back as much by being stuck on a bad Timberwolves team for his rookie contract (and ending up as Kevin Garnett‘s frontcourt sidekick) as anything.
Laettner was just 29 when he blew out his Achilles.
Wilkins went from being the Human Highlight Film to being a shell of his former self, playing two of his last five pro seasons in Europe and bouncing around between the Celtics, Spurs, and Magic and never coming close to the level he achieved before busting his Achilles at age 32.
Brand fell off a cliff after his injury at age 28; even though he did last eight seasons, he was never the force that made two All-Star teams and anchored a mid-aughts Clippers squad that managed a second-round playoff run in Brand’s best year in 2006, and he was offered as a sacrifice in 2012 on the altar of what would ultimately become the Process once Sam Hinkie got hold of it.
The jury’s out on Cousins, but considering just how far he dropped off between last year in New Orleans and this year in Golden State, plus his inability to stay healthy, that doesn’t augur well for his teammate.
Durant is 31. Everyone older than him on this list at the time of their injury either retired or probably should have, since they were done.
Of those younger, one was functionally done, but the other two had unspectacular careers where they were shells of their former selves (and a third looks to be on that path.)
The moral of the story is that by playing Game 5, Kevin Durant either cost himself a couple of hundred million dollars—since nobody is going to want to pay an extended max contract to a guy with an injury that historically has meant a player is washed up if he tries to come back…
…or, on the bright side for Durant, he’ll sucker some team into paying him big money and go down in history as one of the worst contracts of all-time. C’mon, you know you want to, Knicks. It would be so on-brand for you guys.
But whether he snookers a gullible front office or not, Kevin Durant is finished. It was a helluva run, and if the Warriors come back and win the Finals (Game 6 is tonight as this goes to press), maybe he should get Finals MVP just for providing the tipping balance in Game 5 as sort of a lifetime achievement award.