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Boys, Bye: The Warriors’ Offseason Will Be Defined by Kevin Durant

This NBA Finals may have created more questions than answers about KD’s upcoming free agency. Plus: Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are now playing the waiting game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There will be no three-peat, no title to wash away all the ups and downs of this tumultuous Warriors season. Golden State’s 2018-19 campaign contained multitudes, but it crashed and ended abruptly, undone not by another superteam but rather a deep squad led by an unstoppable superstar—the kind of superstar that the Warriors were missing for all but 12 minutes of the last month. Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors beat Golden State 114-110 in Game 6 on Thursday, a result that not even the strongest Toronto backers would have predicted ahead of this series.

The Warriors’ season—from the Draymond Green–Kevin Durant incident in November, to the looming question of Durant’s free agency, to Steph Curry’s takeover in the Rockets series—showcased both their riches and the troubles such riches can lead to over time. It’s impossible not to wonder whether this Finals result is the end of an era. But the Warriors—most of them, at least—will go on. Can they get back to the top next season? And just how different will their roster look if they do?

Here are three looming questions as Golden State heads into a precarious offseason:

Will Kevin Durant stay or leave?

“What if the Warriors had Kevin Durant for this series?” is now one of the greatest “what-ifs” in NBA history. Durant changed the game in the 12 minutes he was out there in a must-win Game 5. Then he crumbled to the floor in the second quarter, grabbed at the back of his ankle, and was gone for the rest of the series—and now for perhaps a full year after that.

The injury may have changed the fate of the Finals, and now it will change the future of the league. At the very least, Durant’s leaving Golden State for New York no longer seems like a sure thing. Durant’s tenure with the Warriors seemed like it was already over months ago, creating unease around the team—which Green struggled to suppress seven months ago. But all of a sudden, there seems to be more of a chance that Durant could opt into his $31.5 million player option for next season, or sign a long-term contract with the Warriors. (Despite the injury, ESPN reported that Durant will still be offered max deals by the New York–based teams.) But a long-term deal could also mean a $200 million luxury tax bill. It would also leave the Warriors without a key player, or a way to replace him, for a full season of most of their core’s prime.

Durant doesn’t owe the Warriors anything, especially after helping them win two titles, but it seemed like in these playoffs he was finally starting to get the validation he craved. The question now is whether he still wants to chart a new path, or whether he wants to stick around Golden State for what could be the last chapter of his career.

Could Klay Thompson leave too?

As if Durant’s ugly exit from the Finals wasn’t bad enough, things only got worse for the Warriors in Game 6: Thompson suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, according to ESPN, after landing awkwardly on a fast-break dunk attempt in the third quarter. Rehab could take until the All-Star break; a more conservative approach could see him miss all of next season. This means that in the span of two games, Durant and Thompson could have seen a year taken out from under them.

Like with Durant, such a devastating injury may affect Thompson’s thinking in free agency. He is one of the best shooters in modern history, and even though he’s already 29, his game should age gracefully even despite the injury. Because of that, it’s possible that other teams will still come bearing max offers once he hits unrestricted free agency this summer. The question for Thompson is whether he’ll value the extra year the Warriors, and the Warriors alone, can offer him even more. And the question for the Warriors is whether they will be willing to go a full season with Durant and/or Thompson on their books but without either on the floor for a year of Steph Curry’s prime and what could be Draymond Green’s last year under contract.

Can the Warriors afford to extend Draymond Green?

Regular-season Draymond is a different player than Playoff Draymond. So when Green—who didn’t sign an extension last summer but is eligible for a bigger one this upcoming offseason—demands the max, will the Warriors worry about the distinction between the two? Will they hesitate to give a 29-year-old with a lot of miles on his odometer that much money? Much like Thompson, it’s hard to envision a future Warriors team without Green, but we’re finally at the point when they’ll have to face hard decisions.

If Durant leaves, it will make sense to re-sign Green. But he’ll likely command more than the five-year, $82 million deal he landed in 2015. This is the cost of trying to keep a superteam together. And Golden State has already seen how that can handcuff the front office when it’s looking to fill out the rest of the roster. I can’t stress this enough: The Warriors had to give Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, and Alfonzo McKinnie meaningful minutes in an NBA Finals.

Green’s value is undeniable, especially in the playoffs, but letting him go into a contract year without a deal seems ill-advised. Then again, on the Warriors’ pyramid of offseason priorities, he’s sitting beneath Durant and Thompson. It doesn’t seem like Green, who recently signed with Klutch Sports, will back down from getting what he’s due. It will be up to the Warriors to decide whether he’s worth the price. Of course, in the end, it may also be up to what Durant decides. It always comes back to him.

This piece was updated Thursday night Pacific Time to reflect the news of Klay Thompson’s ACL injury.