CHARLOTTE, NC – The irony is not lost Kevin Durant as he walked down the back hallway at the Spectrum Center, exiting the building following him successful debut as the newest member Phoenix Suns.
Even when he was in the last season in Golden State and soon became a teammate Kyrie Irving was still in Boston, those two were in that back hallway on All-Star Sunday and Internet sleuths determined that Irving gave Durant his elevator pitch for the two to team up in Brooklyn after that season.
Durant laughed, but said that wasn’t the case, that the two friends were joking about something else. Even if he had, neither of them could have foreseen everything that had happened since then, their grand plan goes up in smoke after looking so promising on his face.
Durant has embarked on another hopeful journey, filled with championship expectations and the obvious spotlight to confirm, as if he wasn’t a decorated champion and two-time Finals MVP.
wherever he goes probably follow the road until June as he is tasked with helping the Suns not only return to the Finals, but avenge their six-game losing streak in 2021. Milwaukee Bucks.
On Wednesday night against the depleted Hornets, it looked easy for Durant.
It always looks easy.
He fits in here. It fits everywhere.
It is his gift, maybe one of them defines him. And that’s probably what separates him from any other superstar in NBA history.
Durant played 27 minutes – slightly more than expected – and scored 23 points with six rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Suns win 105-91. In Durant, Hooper was glad to really work up a sweat, returning to competition for the first time since an MCL injury sidelined him for several weeks in early January.
Things are finally slowing down.
“When I moved and settled in Phoenix, things settled down,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But it couldn’t calm down until I played. It takes me a week or so… mentally, I was on one team and now I’m on another team so fast. I’ve never been through that before. I’m just trying to wrap my head around all of this.”
It’s a lot if you don’t count. It was the Durant trade request from Brooklyn during the summer, and after that he Grids issuing a joint statement promising to move forward this season when no trade seemed suitable.
Then, after a slow start for the Nets, coach Steve Nash was fired. Durant was injured in January after playing at his usual high standard, then Irving — after a stormy start to the season all alone — the Nets said they don’t want to discuss a contract extension until the end of the season, according to sources.
Irving issued a trade request and he was sent to Dallas.
Then Durant quietly went back to Nets management and asked them out again. This time it did, and he landed in Phoenix, a spot on his trade list for the first time — a team that won’t be exhausted in trading for him, still employing people like Devin BookerDeandre Ayton and veteran player Chris Paul.
“I’m processing it right now. It’s a job, that’s how I look at it,” Durant said. “I’m not the first with whom he exchanges or asks for an exchange. I don’t look at myself or my status in the league that I can’t go through what other players in the league are going through.”
He said all the right things at September’s media day and did all the miraculous Durant things on the floor during his remaining time in Brooklyn, but the reasoning behind the initial trade request hasn’t changed in the meantime.
“What do you think it was?” Durant asked, as he is wont to do with the media during the sessions. “I looked at the last year we were in, and this year, what we are doing [for the future]? I’m here. I signed the contract [extension], but no one else around me signed. There was too much confusion. I’m glad to be able to move forward.”
James Harden was replaced Ben Simmons, which turned out to be net negative. Irving’s future was in question, for a variety of reasons.
“I was thinking about who was in the building, and then when the f*** started happening. We are not playing well. KI requested an exchange. It seemed like a lot of crap wasn’t happening to us. But I was closed. I felt that my performance showed people that I was really committed to the organization.
“I looked up, like what am I going to do? I don’t know who my teammates will be, so I was a little nervous about that. And we managed to come up with something.”
Durant has faced criticism as Irving has been in and out of controversy, given how the Nets took Irving as a condition of getting Durant — putting him in a leadership position. In Phoenix, the Suns seem to be aware of that story and don’t want Durant to fall into a similar position.
“I think too many players in the NBA are under too much pressure to lead,” said Suns coach Monty Williams, who was an assistant in Oklahoma City in 2015-16, Durant’s final year there. “I just don’t think it’s necessary. It’s my job to lead. Players do it in places. But that’s all I told him. I said, I’m not asking you to lead. We just want you to be yourself and I think that’s where he is the most free. Be alone.
“We have Chris. The book leads in its own way. Chris [has] was a great leader all his life. We just want to [Durant] be alone. The way he works can show shades of leadership. It was interesting to hear the comments, different players and different people in the gym and they see him going through his training. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I think that had a big impact.”
Durant rarely looks bothered by the outside world during a game. After a minicamp of sorts between the pre-All-Star weekend trade and the days between Sunday’s game and Wednesday, Durant was able to put in some tough workouts with his new teammates before finally stepping on the floor.
He was enthralled by Booker’s 37-point, seven-assist, six-rebound night, which was not unlike the way he marveled at Irving’s exploits on the floor. The Suns aren’t particularly deep, and after so many stellar seasons at the top of the guard mountain, Paul is starting to slow down a bit.
The expectations are there, not only that the Suns will make it through the West even with their flaws, but that Durant will lead them. This isn’t the overpowering super-team people believed he had in Golden State, nor is it the disorganized team in Brooklyn that couldn’t stop itself from tripping over its own feet.
It’s not a perfect setup, not in the least. But Durant can work in the desert and shut up his vocal critics, like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. They are NBA legends, TNT talking heads and more importantly, old school goaltenders.
Durant chose his words carefully on the way to the team bus.
“I don’t know how to put it, these guys are… but…”
Putting unfair standards on you?
“Definitely. Because at this point, they’re saying, go play with Scoot Henderson and win a championship and then we’ll give you credit,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t need any credit from you, no credit from [Barkley], no credits from Shaq. You never have to watch me play again, don’t talk about me if you don’t [rock] with me. I won’t stop doing what I’m doing. Everyone has an opinion, man. That won’t stop me and my approach to the game.
“As for leading the team, I don’t have to coach any team. Whatever happens, we do it together. [Monty’s] the leader, he is the coach. The GM assembles the team. I should go outside and run. That’s my job.”
Durant boarded the bus after greeting some fans at the loading dock, smiling and posing for photos, laughing when one said, “You looked good out there,” as if Durant expected to perform less than himself.
He was asked one final question, if he regrets the extension that seemingly handcuffed him into this needless mess instead of heading back into free agency, free to choose the situation of his choosing.
“I don’t regret anything. “I don’t regret anything I do in my life,” said Durant.[Not] signing an extension worth that much money?”
He laughed again—blissfully dismissive, but always realistic.