NASHVILLE, Tenn. — What do the 2019 NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors have to do with the Tennessee Titans GM?

Wouldn’t you like to know.

With 9:50 remaining in Game 5’s second quarter on Monday night, Golden State forward Kevin Durant injured his right Achilles in his first postseason action since straining his calf a month ago. Durant’s efforts in Toronto helped put his team over the top in a must-win Game 5 down 3-1 in the series. But Durant’s heroics to keep the Warriors alive may have just cost him a full year of basketball and altered his future. The former Finals MVP will now have to seriously consider his player option to remain in the Bay Area in the final year of his contract, rather than to get the change of scenery he’s been reportedly seeking this summer.

“I don’t believe there’s anybody to blame, but I understand in this world and if you have to, you can blame me,” Warriors’ GM Bob Myers said, per Brian Windhorst of “I don’t have all the information on what really the extent of what it all means until we get a MRI, but the people that worked with him and cleared him are good people, they’re good people.”

Durant’s decision to play and the decision of his organization that allowed him to will weigh heavy on that franchise for some time.

The irony of Durant’s was not lost on me this week during AtoZ Sports’ Austin Stanley and Zach Bingham’s discussion the morning after the finals. The question was posed: “What if Kevin Durant’s situation happened to Marcus Mariota in Week 17?” That final week of the 2018 Tennessee Titans’ season that saw the starting quarterback benched for health concerns in arguably the most impactful regular season game in his franchise’s history. Remember that week? That win-and-in game against division rival Andrew Luck, who boasts a now 11-0 record against the local professional football team?

The decision was made to hold Mariota out, Blaine Gabbert started, the Colts won and went to the tournament, etc., etc.

“That’s something that (Mike) Vrabel and I talk about on a weekly basis,” Robinson told me on the latest 615 Sessions podcast. “We tell the players that nothing is more important than the health and safety of our players. When Delanie Walker got hurt in the first week of the (2018) season, you hate it for players who have worked so hard to go out and perform at a high level. It’s frustrating for us because I know it’s frustrating for the player. That was a pretty severe injury that cost him the season.

“You have guys who have had concussions here and we never want to put a player back on the field for any reason if we don’t think they can protect themselves. That was a tough decision for Marcus because I know how much this team means to him and he’s an extremely competitive guy. At the end of the day, the safety and health of our players is the most important thing and we want to err on the side of caution because there’s always life after football.”

In the case of Durant, Achilles injuries to players of that size are difficult to rebound (no pun intended) from. The next time we see him, regardless of which uniform he’s wearing, there’s a good chance there isn’t an immediate return to form as the most unguardable player in the sport. Injuries like that sap the athleticism from players at this stage of their careers and now Durant must wonder whether his efforts will harms his earnings potential.

This is the kind of situation Mariota, Robinson and Vrabel all made their best attempt to avoid.

Playing on his fifth-year option with no looming extension and as much offensive help as he has ever had, Mariota’s performance in 2019 is critical. Added weight in the offseason could not hurt his durability and, while his offseason practice performances have been as inconsistent as his on-field career, Mariota is still an incredibly fluid athlete with a mobility few at his position posses. Robinson, Vrabel and their locker room seem more than willing to give him his chance to put a more complete year together.

“When you’re dealing with an injury, you have to think about the health and the long-term well being of the player,” said Robinson. “Nothing’s more important than that.”

Featured images: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.
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