Nike May Bounce Off Kevin Durant's Broken Foot
How do you replace the NBA’s leading scorer?
The Oklahoma City Thunder are scrambling to answer that question after an MRI revealed a Jones fracture in Kevin Durant’s right foot, sidelining the reigning National Basketball Association MVP for six to eight weeks.
Those who think point guard Russell Westbrook could be the face of a franchise if not for playing in Durant’s shadow will have at least 20 games to watch him make his case. With no one near Durant’s shooting prowess at forward, it will be largely up to Westbrook to pick up the team in both scoring and leadership. It’s uncharted territory for a Thunder team that has been spoiled by Durant’s durability and consistency. Since entering the league in 2007, Durant has played all but 16 games, tallying more minutes on the court than any other player.
Still, November is a relatively meaningless month in the NBA season, so Thunder fans have no reason to panic for their team’s long-term prospects. For a team that’s only been around since 2008, the Thunder have managed to build a fiercely loyal fan base, enthused by deep playoff runs led by Durant and Westbrook. Oklahoma City has boasted 100 percent attendance each season since 2011-12. And while big-market teams took big hits in local television ratings last year, the Thunder topped the league with an average local rating of 8.81, a two-percent increase from the previous year.
On an individual level, sitting out until late November or early December will hamper Durant’s chances of repeating his scoring title and MVP award, both of which likely come with significant monetary bonuses under his contract. While contract structures are largely kept out of public knowledge, several players do have performance-based incentives for anything from making the All-Star team to winning the MVP. Sometimes, these bonuses get out of hand: ESPN’s Amin Elhassan reported that San Antonio Spurs power forward Boris Diaw’s contract includes up to $500,000 in incentives for weight management.
Of course, these incentives pale in comparison to the $19 million salary Durant is set to make this year, not to mention the 10-year, $275 million sponsorship deal he just signed with Nike. As Businessweek’s Ira Boudway notes, Durant’s injury won’t derail Nike’s marketing campaign, and could actually become fodder for various comeback commercials, replete with dramatic music, words from motivational posters and generic clips of dunking, whenever he’s set to return to the court. (Think Adidas’ Derrick Rose campaign, “The Return” -- a return for which we’re still waiting.)
The bottom line, as Thunder general manager Sam Presti put it, is that you don’t replace a Kevin Durant. You simply work around his absence and figure out the best course of action that will get him back on the court as soon as possible without exacerbating his injury. According to certified athletic trainer Jeff Stotts, stress fractures such as Durant’s run a high risk of re-injury, even with surgery.
Rushing Durant back prematurely would likely do more long-term damage for little short-term gain. And with his impending free agency during the 2016 offseason, it’s in Durant’s -- and the league’s -- best interest to make sure he can get back to being the workhorse of the NBA.
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