NBA PM: Durant’s Return Appears Imminent

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The Boston Celtics will likely hold the rights to the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and now, the top seeded team in the NBA is preparing for the return of Kevin Durant. The rich appear to keep getting richer.

Fittingly, it’s been 35 days since Durant last played in a game for the Golden State Warriors. Way back on February 28, the small forward suffered what was eventually revealed to be a sprained MCL and a bruised tibia.

Upon initial glance, Durant’s injury appeared to be somewhat gruesome, with a few members of the team, including Durant himself, fearing that his season could have been over.

Now, it appears that his return is imminent.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN, Durant and the Warriors medical staff are hopeful that he can return to the lineup on April 8. The Warriors will host the New Orleans Pelicans in what will be their third-to-last game of the regular season, giving Durant at least a few games to get readjusted to the pace of an NBA game. If he is able to return on the contemplated date, he will have missed 19 games. All things considered, the Dubs are rather fortunate.

What has been stated in this space previously as it relates to the Warriors was that adding Durant to the club came at a great risk. Clearing the salary cap space to sign him required walking away from some vital pieces of the team’s success over the past few years, including Marreese Speights, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. Without question, the Warriors sacrificed their depth to add Durant. The pro of the move was fairly obvious—the team simultaneously weakened one of the other contenders to its Western Conference crown while adding a future Hall-of-Fame caliber talent.

The con? Their depth.

Heading into this season, the prevailing sentiment was that the Warriors wouldn’t have an opportunity to win the Western Conference for the third consecutive year if any of their primary players—Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and, of course, Durant—went down.

Although they briefly yielded the top seed to the San Antonio Spurs for a period last month, the Warriors appear to have rediscovered some of their pre-Durant mojo in his absence. Perhaps out of necessity, the team remembered how it found success long before Durant entered the picture.

With at least two games remaining between now and Durant’s expected return date, the Warriors have posted a 13-4 record. They will play the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns before Saturday—two teams the Warriors should have no problem dispatching.

What’s most encouraging about the team, however, is how the troops responded over the course of Durant’s absence. Despite some early season struggles, over the past 10 games, Steve Kerr has simultaneously managed to win games while scaling back the minutes of Curry, Thompson and Green back slightly. During the same stretch, however, Curry (26.8 points) and Thompson (23.7 points) have been outscoring their season averages—25.7 points and 22.3 points, respectively. Even better? Curry’s shooting slump appears to be over, as he has shot 52 percent from the field, including 47.5 percent from beyond the three-point line.

To their credit, both Andre Iguodala, David West and Ian Clark have each assisted with some of the burden created by Durant’s departure. Over the past 10 games specifically, each player is playing more minutes (they’ve played an average of about 60 combined minutes over the team’s past 10 games) and have improved their individual scoring outputs.

At least from the outside looking in, it appears as though the pieces surrounding Durant in Oakland have found some chemistry and have found a way to hold the fort in his stead. With his return appearing imminent, the question now will revolve around how his reintroduction to the lineup and rotation will impact the chemistry that the Warriors seems to have found.

Durant will be reincorporated into the team and will give Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry another great option. While he was away, the club may have found something, and with his return, they aren’t likely to suddenly lose it.

With the Western Conference playoff picture taking shape and the Cleveland Cavaliers not currently sitting in first out East, heading into the final week of the regular season, the Warriors probably like where they’re standing. Without the pressure of chasing down 73 wins and with a comfortable 3.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed out West, the Dubs are in a much better situation this season than they were one year ago.

For their sake, let’s hope that with Durant in the lineup, they’ll continue to look as sharp as they have in his absence.