Footenotes: KD’s injury and its impact, Mahomes expectations, Royal Rebuild

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Happy Thursday everyone. Hope everyone is having a good week so far. In last week’s edition of Footenotes, we talked a lot of NBA Finals and broke down the Kansas City Royals’ first overall selection in the 2019 MLB Draft, Bobby Witt Jr. This week, there’ll be quite a bit more NBA Finals analysis to go around, in addition to some free agency tidbits and even a little Chiefs. If you stick around until the end, there will be a mini-eulogy on the Royals’ 2019 season and a look at what’s ahead. Let’s jump in.

How Kevin Durant’s injury impacts the NBA

For those who didn’t get to see the game on Monday, the odds are you heard about it in some way, shape or form: Kevin Durant suffered a torn right Achilles tendon in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors. Despite being deemed healthy enough to make his 2019 Finals debut earlier this week, the euphoria didn’t last very long.

As a result of this torn Achilles and subsequent successful surgery, you’re looking at a top 5 (maybe higher) player in the National Basketball Association missing either most or all of the 2019-2020 season. Had Durant been in the middle of a contract with the Golden State Warriors, it would still be a tough pill to swallow. That goes without saying, even for one of the league’s best teams in recent memory.

The fact that Durant is an impending free agent complicates this situation tenfold. The 12th-year superstar has a player option for the 2019 season that comes with a price tag of $31.5 million, one he was almost certain to decline this offseason in hopes of latching on with a team for 4 years. It has been reported recently that opting into that one-year deal is a “last resort” for Durant this summer.

Now, we arrive back at the beginning. Assuming Durant declines that player option and tests the free agent market, are teams desperate enough to sign him to a multi-year contract, knowing he’s likely going to miss a full year of it? I would guess yes. One of the most talented players in the history of the league, Durant has the potential to single-handedly change a franchise’s present and future. For a team like the New York Knicks — likely still a year away from putting a championship-caliber supporting cast around Durant anyway — biting the bullet for one season by using one of two available max contract slots for an injured Durant wouldn’t be the end of the world.

It is quite possible that we may not see Kevin Durant on an NBA court, playing in a game, for up to 16 months. This heartbreaking news not only robs us of a year of Durant’s prime, but robs him of being able to do what he loves most: play the game of basketball. Here’s to a quick and speedy recovery.

Expectations for Patrick Mahomes in 2019

The defending Most Valuable Player of the NFL, Patrick Mahomes is as talked about and praised as any player the league has seen recently. He’s easily the biggest icon in Kansas City Chiefs history, and possibly the biggest in the history of the city as a whole. Throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in what was his first full season as the starting quarterback of the Chiefs, Mahomes took the league by storm.

One offseason later, and there’s been plenty of talk about Mahomes’ inevitable decline or drop off in production. This can be attributed to a myriad of things. First and foremost, it’s just really hard to throw for 50 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. As a matter of fact, no one in NFL history has ever done it. On top of that, Mahomes will be without his former star running back, Kareem Hunt, for the entirety of the season. Hunt is now a Cleveland Brown.

Additionally, wide receiver Tyreek Hill’s situation may be looking a bit more promising in regards to his prospects of remaining with the team and playing in 2019, but it’s still certainly possible he’s suspended for part of the season. Conduct detrimental to the league is a common reason for suspension, even if said player isn’t charged with a crime. Because his situation could have (or did) tarnish the image of the league, it can lead to a suspension. Whether or not that’s fair is up for you to decide, but it’s a possibility nonetheless.

So, on one hand, there are many reasons Patrick Mahomes may see some type of statistical regression in 2019. On the other hand, it’s not completely fair to compare him to other record-breaking QBs over the course of the past 30 years. Mahomes is 23 years old. Andy Reid is one of the most brilliant offensive minds throughout the existence of the NFL. If Hill is on the field, Mahomes will have a cast of receiving weapons that includes him, Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce. No offense has ever had that much versatility and speed on the field at once.

The running back situation should also be just fine. Damien Williams is a more-than-capable runner and a great receiving threat out of the backfield. Free agent pickup Carlos Hyde should complement him well. Darrel Williams showed promise at LSU and although he didn’t have many chances to contribute to the Chiefs as a rookie, he’s got potential. Draft selection Darwin Thompson has been highlighted as a sleeper by many, and he reminds the person writing this article a bit of the aforementioned Hunt.

Mahomes will be fine. Interpret that how you want.

The Royal Rebuild

The Kansas City Royals are 21-45. 2-8 in their last 10, this isn’t a young club trending upward. This is a young club on pace for a second-consecutive 100-loss season. When the bats are hot, the arms are cold. When someone is tossing a gem, the offense can’t provide any run support. The 2019 Kansas City Royals are an inconsistent bunch with plenty of holes, but that’s fine. No one expected (or should have expected, for that matter) this year’s team to be even close to a competitive one.

“Trust the process” is a phrase that has been used a lot in the past 10 years of sports. The Philadelphia 76ers made it popular in the NBA, and Royals general manager Dayton Moore has made it popular in the MLB. Moore’s “process” has been publicly summarized as attempting to rebuild while also remaining competitive. Moore has tried his best to avoid using the term “rebuild,” but that’s what the past two years have been for the Royals.

It’s okay for the club to be bad now. Behind the plate, Martin Maldonado and company will hold down the fort until All-Star, Gold Glove catcher Salvador Pérez returns from Tommy John surgery next season. Pérez could have worse problems than resting his body for a year, especially a lost one for the team. Up the middle of the infield, Adalberto Mondesí has been as good as advertised and is a franchise centerpiece. Second baseman Nicky Lopez was recently called up and if he can even sniff his production at the minor league level, he’ll be a very useful player for years to come.

The selection of Bobby Witt Jr. provides a great problem for the team to have in a few years: where to put him. With both he and Mondesí having some great athleticism, either could move to another position and fill a hole in the future. At the corners of the infield, the Royals have options. Before getting hurt Hunter Dozier was putting up near MVP-caliber numbers at the hot corner and has suddenly seen his name been thrown in the hat of players the franchise covets very highly moving forward. Cheslor Cuthbert has been on a tear since rejoining the major league club, and provides some quality depth at third base in the worst case.

Despite Ryan O’Hearn’s struggles this season, he possesses some rare raw power potential and is still fairly young. Nick Pratto’s development has been worrisome but should his light bulb turn on, KC would be presented with another good problem to have with two players who are MLB ready at the same position in a couple years.

In the outfield, it’s likely that even if Alex Gordon’s surprising resurgence parlays into a new contract, it’ll be just a one-year commitment so he can retire a Royal and satisfy his itch to play for another season. Speaking of one-year deals, centerfielder Billy Hamilton probably won’t be a part of the club’s future plans despite his elite speed and defense. Jorge Soler’s future, whether it be at DH, LF or RF, has suddenly become a topic of interest. That’s likely because he’s clubbed 17 home runs already this season and could threaten Mike Moustakas’ franchise record of 38.

Outfielder Khalil Lee remains one of the organization’s top prospects and should be ready to contribute for the MLB club at the same time as some of his peers within the farm system. Kyle Isbel appears ready for a promotion to AA by the end of the season to join Lee. After hitting 31 home runs for the Lexington Legends, the Royals’ single-A affiliate, Seuly Matias is hitting just .148 in Advanced-A ball. Despite that, his raw power remains intriguing as a player with a Soler-type ceiling. Bubba Starling has done all he can do at the minor league level and will *eventually* see his name on the big screen at Kauffman Stadium.

Then, there’s the pitching staff. Danny Duffy is probably going to have his name dropped in every trade rumor for as long as he’s a Royal, but he’s a solid pitcher and is under contract through 2021. The young trio of Brad Keller, Jakob Junis and Jorge Lopez has performed to varying degrees of success, but all are under club control for the foreseeable future and all three will be given multiple chances to prove themselves. Kyle Zimmer and Eric Skoglund are x-factors moving forward either as rotation pieces or bullpen arms.

Last year’s pitching haul via the MLB Draft featured Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch. All three have performed quite well but are years away from being called up. The same goes for Kris Bubic. Overall, though, the arms of the 2020-and-after Kansas City Royals will be in good shape.

The 2019 Kansas City Royals are a bad team. The 2020 Kansas City Royals will also likely be a bad team. How the 2021 club performs hinges on when young talent is brought up and how well it performs. Regardless of what happens between now and then — the future of the Royals is not as bleak as it may seem.

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