It seems as if no matter what happens around the NBA, I tend to look at it from the perspective of random chance. The news today is that Kevin Durant has a Jones fracture in his foot (that's a new one for me, thank FSM for Wikipedia) and will miss up to eight weeks.
And while many are discussing the bad injury luck of the Thunder the last few seasons -- Durant's fellow superstar Russell Westbrook was injured during the 2013 playoffs and then missed a couple months of last season -- I can't help thinking of it all as an inevitable correction for the incredibly good injury luck the Thunder had experienced for several years before that.
Before his injury against the Houston Rockets in a now infamous run in with Patrick Beverly, Westbrook had never missed a game -- not in high school, not in college, not in the NBA. This led commentators to discuss his incredible durability and to attribute to him some sort of injury-avoidance superpower. Personal temperament and pain tolerance will certainly play a part in whether a player wants to or can play through a minor injury -- but more serious injuries can't (or certainly shouldn't) be simply ignored, and they happen, even to the most impressive of physical specimens.
Westbrook certainly is a specimen, but his reckless playing style is the other side of that coin. He was bound to be injured, despite his freakish physique. On the other hand, one would actually expect Durant's body type to be prone to injury if anything. He's impossibly long and thin; in someone who is all arms and legs, there's just more leg to be injured. It's a bit unexpected that he has suffered a foot injury, something I would associate with bulkier players who are supporting a lot of weight on their feet -- think Stanley Roberts or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But more to my original point, injuries happen, and players are only immune to them up to the point where they get injured.
Since OKC began their run of success in 2010 (they've been to the playoffs five straight seasons and had a regular season winning percentage over 60% each of those) they've enjoyed remarkable, almost unprecedented, team health. Prior to Westbrook's injury woes last season, the Thunder's big two combined missed just five games over the course of four seasons -- playing in a remarkable 98.4% of OKC's games. That good health continued for Durant last season, when he appeared in 81 of 82 games.
In fact, Durant led the league in both games played and minutes over the last five seasons, appearing in 461 of 467 Thunder games including the postseason.
Durant's brilliance is clearly a major factor in OKC's sustained success -- and the simple fact is, no one has much clue what the Thunder will look like without him for a month, because it's never happened.
In the end, assuming the injury heals properly and on or ahead of schedule, Durant's injury won't matter a whole lot. If he misses October and November, that's 17 games for OKC. Even assuming they lose ten of those (a pretty pessimistic prediction for a team with championship aspirations, regardless of whom they're missing), they would still win 54 games on the season if we assume they're a 60 win team with Durant.
Before Durant's injury, the Thunder were likely to be battling San Antonio and the Clippers for the top three spots in the west -- this obviously has an impact there, and could very well doom them to the third spot . But that was a possibility before, and they're unlikely to drop further than third if Durant is indeed back by December. Factor in the additional game time for the likes of Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, and the Thunder could be a more dangerous team come playoff time with a completely healthy roster.
Injuries are a part of the story for every NBA season. The Clippers have had more than their share over the years, and have had plenty of issues during their recent run of success as well. And while we don't want to rejoice in the misfortune of others, there's no doubt that this news opens the door for the LAC to secure a top two seed in the West -- as of this moment, you'd have to say it's likely that the Western Conference race will come down to the Spurs and the Clippers, but a million things can change between now and April as well.
In the end, the Thunder should count themselves lucky if Durant 'only' misses a month and they don't have any other major injuries. His absence could certainly cost them during the regular season in the battle for playoff seeding, but if they're at full strength in the postseason they'll be plenty dangerous.