Kevin Durant’s Injury Will Dictate the NBA’s Craziest Summer Ever
What we thought we knew about free agency has changed dramatically.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because what we thought we knew about free agency has changed dramatically.
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What was your reaction when Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles on Monday night? Empathy? Congratulations, you’re a well-adjusted human. But if your mind skipped to free agency — to the tsunami-level ripple effects in a league entering uncertain times — well, you probably spend too much time on Twitter.
Either that or you’re an NBA free agent.
This summer, Durant and Kawhi Leonard will be the biggest free agents since LeBron James in 2010. Sparked by James’ decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, that patently insane summer reshaped the league and defined this modern era of free agency. In the wake of Toronto’s captivating title, we’re due for even more tectonic shifts.
It’s been reported that Leonard, the Finals MVP, would consider a one-year deal with Toronto. But, just one year removed from his own lengthy leg injury, will witnessing Durant’s injury first-hand leave Leonard looking for long-term security? Elsewhere, Kyrie Irving (pictured, right) has been rumored as a potential superteam sidekick with Durant, but now Irving may be calling his own shots. On Wednesday, news broke that Irving will sign with Roc Nation Sports, which has close ties to the Brooklyn Nets.
With Durant sidelined next season, a whole new crop of talented young teams with cap space (cough, Atlanta, cough) could become suitors. Depending on which team trades for Pelicans forward Anthony Davis and which clubs back off Durant, the careers of free agents like Jimmy Butler (pictured, left), Kemba Walker and D’Angelo Russell — not to mention LeBron’s twilight — are forever altered.
The NBA always was going to look massively different come fall. But an injury to the world’s best player just ruptured everything we thought we knew.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Canada vs. New Zealand, Women’s World Cup (Saturday at 3:00pm ET on Fox Sports 2)
Currently No. 5 in the FIFA world rankings, Canada is a real threat to the U.S. women’s national team in this World Cup, where they could meet in the quarterfinals. They’ll have to handle the world No. 19 Kiwis first.
- Canada (-240)
- New Zealand (+600)
Boxing: Tyson Fury vs. Tom Schwarz (Saturday at 10:00pm ET on ESPN+)
Lineal champion Tyson Fury, the Gypsy King of England, takes on Germany’s Tom Schwarz in what appears to be yet another one-sided heavyweight bout. As we saw recently, though, fast hands can spoil plans quickly.
- Fury (-3,000)
- Schwarz (+1,100)
Ones to Watch
Lindsay Gottlieb. For the first time ever, an NBA team is hiring from the women’s college ranks. The Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday announced the addition of Cal head women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb as an assistant under new Cleveland head coach John Beilein. A native New Yorker who played at Brown University, Gottlieb, 41, took the Golden Bears to seven NCAA Tournaments with one Final Four appearance, earning acclaim as a play-caller and master recruiter capable of connecting with young athletes and marketing her programs via social media. Taking advantage of her Bay Area location, she regularly visits with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers. She joins the NBA with stature and coaching credentials unmatched by other women’s coaches in the league. A sign of Cleveland’s confidence? They gave her a four-year contract, rare for an assistant.
Kumar Rocker. With his team facing elimination, Vanderbilt’s star freshman pitcher, Rocker, struck out 19 Duke hitters en route to tossing the first-ever no-hitter in NCAA Super Regionals history last Saturday. Some are calling it the greatest pitching performance in college baseball history. Again, he’s a freshman. Vanderbilt (54-11) is now a favorite in the College World Series field of eight — thanks in large part to their 6-foot-4 ace with a fastball touching 98 mph and a nasty slider. The son of a former Washington Redskins player and the maternal grandson of Indian immigrants, Rocker was a first-round prospect in the 2018 MLB Draft before informing teams that he would go to college. It’s safe to say some MLB scouts wish they’d been able to change his mind. Seven active major league pitchers were drafted out of Vanderbilt in the first round, headlined by former top overall pick David Price (2007), but it was Rocker who threw the school’s first complete game no-hitter in 48 years. On the year, Rocker is 10-5 with a 3.50 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 87.1 innings pitched.
A U.S. Open three-peat? Will this weekend at Pebble Beach be yet another notch on Brooks Koepka’s belt? Koepka, 29, is golf’s new King Kong — the world No. 1, winner of the past two PGA Championships and U.S. Opens. A win at Pebble Beach would give Brooks a three-peat, something accomplished only once before: by Scottish immigrant Willie Anderson, from 1903 to 1905. In 2019, though, the competition is a bit steeper. Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, the two most recent Open winners before Koepka, are sure to be factors, as will the 2011 Open winner, Rory McIlroy, fresh off last weekend’s RBC Canadian Open win. But if any player can push the unflappable Koepka to the edge on Sunday, it may be Tiger Woods. The three-time Open winner has climbed to world No. 5 after his win at the Masters in April — where Koepka finished second — and El Tigre is as healthy as he’s been in years. As for sleepers, 2010 Open winner Graeme McDowell (at 100-to-1 odds) is an interesting longshot. Keep an eye on Patrick Cantlay (16:1) too. Cantlay, a former U.S. Amateur champ, has finished well at Pebble before. Most importantly, he knows where not to hit the ball. Good luck with that rough, fellas.
The high school baseball prospect. Evaluating baseball prospects is, arguably, the most inexact science in sports. That doesn’t stop MLB teams from leaning further into data in an attempt to perfect the process. Baseball’s growing obsession with data has changed the game in countless ways: from more home runs and evolving defensive strategy to pitch selection and the death of the stolen base. Now data is reshaping the draft, where the number of high school players taken has decreased for a seventh straight year. Per The Wall Street Journal, 46 percent of players taken in the first 10 rounds in 1999 were high schoolers. This year, that fell to a mere 19 percent. Why? As major league scouting departments become more reliant on data, it becomes harder to judge high school prospects. The plethora of information that teams require to feel confident in a decision is almost nonexistent at the high school level, and scouts no longer trust the “eye test.” Plus, more teams are building through the draft rather than free agency, which means they’re less willing to take risks. Nothing is riskier than drafting a teenager. So, what’s a young baseball prospect to do? It’s a novel concept in sports but … go to college.
The Woman at the Center of America’s World Cup Chances by Caitlin Murray in OZY
Rose Lavelle is what’s known in soccer as a “No. 10,” a creative playmaker who pulls the strings of the attack, creating chances for herself and others. You can also learn about the people who paved the way for her on OZY’s The Thread podcast.
At Last: The St. Louis Blues Are First!, by Jim Thomas in the St. Louis Dispatch
The wait is over, the curse lifted. Stanley met Gloria on Wednesday night in TD Garden, and for Blues fans everywhere, it’s a match made in hockey heaven. After 51 seasons, the Blues are Stanley Cup champions by virtue of their 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins in Game 7.
Nobody Hits Harder Than Pete Alonso, by Leo Sepkowitz in Bleacher Report
In a few months, he’s already homered off Bumgarner, tagged Kershaw and drawn comparisons with McGwire. How far will the Mets rookie go? As far as his next moonshot.
Track Star Matthew Boling’s Life Is Changing 10 Seconds at a Time, by Adam Kilgore in The Washington Post
In the run-up to the 2020 Olympics, the teenager who hates being called “White Lightning” will be the most recognizable name in track.
While Americans concern ourselves with Durant’s injury, the rest of the world is watching the Cricket World Cup. On Wednesday, Australia topped Pakistan, 307-266, to shoot to the top of the standings — despite a five-wicket haul from Pakistani bowler Mohammad Amir.