The balance of power in the NBA shifted radically over the past 24 hours, as the Cleveland Cavaliers added Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut while the Golden State Warriors suffered a scary injury to Kevin Durant.
Although KD's prognosis is good, the Warriors will be tested by his absence. On this week's episode of the In The Zone basketball podcast, FOX Sports NBA analyst Chris Broussard explained why Golden State is no longer the favorite to win the 2017 NBA championship — and the two worst-case scenarios for KD the rest of this season.
If you haven't already subscribed to the smartest basketball podcast on the internet, fix that immediately on iTunes (and leave a five-star rating while you're at it), then sit back as Broussard drops knowledge.
Chris HumphreysChris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris: The Warriors (kind of) got some good news Wednesday
CHRIS: "All things considered, the Warriors got some good news on Wednesday when Durant was diagnosed with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise. He’ll be re-evaluated in four weeks and while out indefinitely, a return before the end of the regular season has not been ruled out.
"Along with Golden State, we’re all breathing a sigh of relief because you never want to see a player get injured long term. That being said, there is now uncertainty in the air. After all, who knows when Durant will return, or how well he’ll play once he does get back.
"While it may sound cold-hearted, KD’s injury has actually injected some much-needed drama, suspense and intrigue into this NBA season. Suddenly, questions abound."
Chris: This isn't the same team as last year without KD
CHRIS: "Before Durant’s injury, practically everyone on earth believed Golden State would reach the Finals. Heck, every GM in the league predicted that exact outcome in the preseason. But now?
"While I still favor the Warriors, especially since it sounds like Durant should be available for the playoffs, things have certainly gotten harder for them.
"With rust, lost chemistry, and the likelihood that Durant will be less than 100 percent upon his return, the chances of San Antonio, Houston, and yes, even the Warriors’ whipping boys (the Los Angeles Clippers) winning the West have increased substantially.
"Remember, without Durant, this is not the same Warriors team that won 73 games last season. Andrew Bogut is gone — in fact, he’s in Cleveland (more on that later). Also gone: Mo Speights, Harrison Barnes and Leandro Barbosa. They’ve replaced them with young kids like Pat McCaw, sensitive kids like JaVale McGee, or old men like Matt Barnes.
"Who knows how those guys will respond on the big stage of the NBA playoffs?"
Chris: The Warriors could very well get eliminated before the Finals
CHRIS: "If KD is hampered, the Warriors’ rim protection will suffer big-time. You don’t think San Antonio will exploit that to the max? They’ve already got the size, coaching, and experience to make life hard on the Warriors. Perhaps Durant’s injury has cracked the window just enough for the never-to-be-counted-out Spurs to slide right through.
"Or how about the Rockets? They’ve already beaten Golden State once this season, and that was before they added sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams. All Lou has done? He's averaged 24 points since joining Houston ...
"While I wouldn’t pick any team to win a shootout with the Warriors, if anyone could, it would be the Rockets, especially if a gimpy Durant is not quite himself.
"The Clippers? Well, it’s true that the Warriors own them, having spanked them 10 straight times. But if the Spurs or Rockets beat Golden State for them, I think the Clippers are fully capable of upsetting one of those two squads.
"Doc, you gotta prove Big Baby wrong, man. Prove you’re not overrated and that you can get the max out of these boys!"
Chris: There's no guarantee we'll see 'The Old Steph'
CHRIS: "Let’s face it, we all miss 'The Old Steph.' Heck, I think New Steph misses The Old Steph. This year’s version certainly isn’t bad, but because of Durant’s presence, it’s no longer been bombs away like last season.
"Will that Steph re-emerge now that KD is out for at least the next four weeks? Is 'The Old Steph' even still in there?
"'Oh, Chris, you’re sleeping on The Old Steph. With one flip of the switch, he’ll be back.'
"OK, but Steph’s been trying to get his mojo back for the past two months. Over that period, he’s shot more than any other Warriors player and is no longer deferring to Durant. Durant only shot 14.5 times a game in February.
"But the results for Steph have been mixed. In January, he was darn near as impressive as he was last season, averaging 28 points while draining 43 percent of this 3s. But he’s fallen off of late. Over his last 10 games, Steph is shooting an almost unfathomable 42 percent overall, including just 31 percent from behind the arc.
"Now is the time for Steph to turn back the clock. In fact, it may be necessary for Warriors to hold off the Spurs for home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Besides, while Golden State is more talented and — we presume — better with KD, they’re certainly more fun to watch when The Old Steph is running wild.
"Come back, Old Steph. We beg of you, come back."
Geoff BurkeGeoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Chris: The Warriors are no longer Finals favorites
CHRIS: "That’s right, the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking like the favorites now. At the very least, a Finals matchup between these two has to be a toss up, a pick ‘em. Which is perfect for a third straight meeting, a rubber-match Finals.
"I mean, working Durant back this time could be tougher than working him in at the beginning of the season was. Of course, in the playoffs there’ll be little room for error, little time to work out the kinks.
"And what if The Old Steph really does come back? Will it be difficult for him to dial it back to reincorporate Durant? And what about the Warriors’ late-game struggles in determining who’s the go-to guy? They needed time with KD on the floor in tight games to figure that out. Now, they won’t have it.
"Plus, Cleveland has improved. Say what you want about LeBron calling for more help, but you know what, he got it. Dude should be Executive of the Year. With the additions of Bogut and Deron Williams, the Cavs could now field two starting lineups.
"While Golden State’s depth has suffered, Cleveland has become the deepest, most versatile team in the league.
"A week ago, there was legitimate fear that Golden State could actually win every series — including the Finals — in four or five games. Now? We could definitely see a few seven-game thrillers and maybe even an offseason when the Warriors are once again forced to go back to the drawing board."
Chris: So here are the worst-case scenarios for KD
CHRIS: "Here's the two worst-case scenarios for the Warriors — either a rusty KD returns, the chemistry is jacked up and they fail to win it all, or KD doesn’t return this season and the Warriors are beaten in the playoffs. In the end, either situation could actually work out for Durant.
"If the Warriors, for whatever reason, lose this season, it could lead folks to have more respect for the future titles Durant does win in Golden State. Remember, that’s what happened with LeBron in Miami. When he lost to Dallas in 2011, it proved that his path to a championship, even with a star-studded Heat club, would not be easy. So when he finally won it the next year, he got love and widespread praise.
"The same thing could happen to Durant. If the Warriors roll through the playoffs and the Finals, dismantling everyone in their path, some will think KD took the easy road to a ring. But if he loses first, if climbing the mountain even in Golden State proves to be difficult and challenging, he’ll get more respect when he finally does lay hold of the Larry O’Brien trophy."