Kevin Durant debuts with Suns with no regrets and no expectations other than hooping

CHARLOTTE, NC — The irony was not lost on Kevin Durant as he walked through a back hallway at the Spectrum Center and exited the building after a successful debut as the newest member of the Phoenix Suns.

When he was in his last season at Golden State and soon-to-be teammate Kyrie Irving was still in Boston, the two were in that back hallway on All-Star Sunday and internet detectives decided that Irving Durant gave his elevator pitch for the two to work together in Brooklyn after that season.

Durant chuckled but said that wasn’t the case, that the two friends were joking about something else. Even if it did, neither of them could have imagined what has happened since, their grand plan going up in smoke after it seemed so promising on the surface.

Durant embarked on another hopeful journey, filled with championship hopes and the apparent spotlight to validate, as if he isn’t a decorated champion and Finals MVP two times.

Wherever he goes, June’s path likely follows, as he’s tasked with not only helping the Suns get back to the Finals stage, but also avenging their six-game 2021 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

On Wednesday-evening against the exhausted Hornets, Durant seemed easy.

It always looks easy.

He fits here. It fits in everywhere.

That is his gift, perhaps his defining one of them all. And it’s probably the one that separates him from every other superstar in NBA history.

Durant played 27 minutes—a few more than he was written for—and scored 23 points with six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in the Suns’ 105–91 win. The Durant hooper was just happy to be able to really work up a sweat to sideline him for weeks for the first time since an MCL injury in early January.

It’s slowing down, finally.

“Once I moved and settled in Phoenix, things settled down,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But it wouldn’t settle down until I played. I need about a week… mentally I was on one team and now I’m on another team so quickly. I’ve never experienced that. I’m just trying to wrap my mind around all of this.

It’s a lot if one hasn’t kept track. There was the Durant trade request from Brooklyn over the summer, followed by him and the Nets making a joint statement pledging to move forward this season when no trade seemed appropriate.

Then, after a slow Nets start, coach Steve Nash was fired. Durant was injured in January after playing at his usual high level, after which Irving – after a tumultuous start to the season all alone – was told by the Nets that they would not discuss a contract extension until after the season. to sources.

Irving filed a trade request and was sent to Dallas.

Then Durant quietly went back to Net’s management and asked out again. This time it worked and he landed in Phoenix, a spot on his trade list the first time around – a team that wouldn’t run out of trades for him, still employed by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and veteran point guard Chris Paul.

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant drives to the basket past Charlotte Hornets guard Kelly Oubre Jr. at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 1, 2023. (Brian Westerholt/USA TODAY Sports)

“I’m processing it now. It’s a business, it’s how I look at it,” Durant said. “I am not the first to trade or ask for a trade. I don’t look at myself or my status in the league that I can’t experience what other players are going through in the league.”

He said all the right things at media day in September and did all the wonderful Durant things on the floor during his remaining time in Brooklyn, but the reasoning behind the initial trade request never changed in the meantime.

“What do you think it was?” Durant asked, as he usually does with the media during sessions. “I looked at the year we were in last year and this year, what are we doing [for the future]? I’m here. I signed the contract [extension], but no one else around me signed. It was too much confusion. I am happy that I can move forward.”

James Harden was traded for Ben Simmons, who turned out to be a net negative. Irving’s future was in doubt for several reasons.

“I was thinking about who’s in the building and when the s*** started happening. We’re not playing well. KI asked to trade. It felt like a lot of s*** wasn’t happening for us. But I was locked up. I felt like my play showed people that I was really committed to the organization.

“I looked up, what should I do? I don’t know who my teammates will be, so I was a little nervous when that happened. And we were able to arrange something.”

Durant was criticized for Irving being in and out of controversy as 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 talk and don’t want Durant to end up in a similar place.

“I think too many players in the NBA put too much pressure to lead,” said Suns coach Monty Williams, who was an assistant at Oklahoma City in 2015/16, Durant’s senior year there. “I just don’t think it’s necessary. It’s my job to lead. Players do it in spots. But that’s all I told him. I said I’m not looking for you to lead. We just want you to be yourself and I think that’s where he’s most free. To be himself.

‘We’ve got Chris. Book leads in its own way. Chris [has] been a great leader all his life. We just want [Durant] to be himself. He can show nuances of leadership with the way he works. It was interesting to hear the comments, different players and different people in the gym and watching him do his workout. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. And I think that has had a huge impact.”

Durant rarely seems to be bothered by the outside world during a game. After a mini-camp of sorts between his trade for the All-Star weekend and the days between Sunday’s and Wednesday’s game, Durant was able to get some hard practice with his new teammates before finally hitting the floor.

He was captivated by Booker’s night of 37 points, seven assists and six rebounds, similar to the way he marveled at Irving’s exploits on the floor. The suns aren’t particularly deep, and after so many great seasons on top of Point Guard mountain, Paul is starting to slow down a bit.

The expectations are there, not just for the Suns to get through the West, even with their flaws, but for Durant to lead them. This isn’t an overwhelming super team that people thought he had in Golden State, nor is it a troubled outfit in Brooklyn that couldn’t stop tripping over its own feet.

It’s not the perfect setup, not in the least. But Durant can do work in the desert and silence his vocal critics like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. They’re NBA legends, TNT talking heads, and more importantly, old school gatekeepers.

Durant chose his words carefully on the way to the team bus.

“I don’t know how to say it, these guys are…but…”

To impose an unfair standard on you?

“Definitely. Because right now they’re saying go play with Scoot Henderson and win a championship and we’ll give you the credit,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t need any credit from you, no credit from [Barkley], no credit from Shaq. You never have to see me play again, don’t talk about me if you don’t [rock] with me. I’m not going to stop what I’m doing. Everyone has their opinion, man. It won’t stop me and how I approach the game.

“In terms of leading a team, I don’t have to coach a team. Whatever happens, we do it together. [Monty’s] the leader, he is the coach. The GM puts the team together. I have to go out and hoop. Thats my job.”

Durant boarded the bus after greeting some fans in the loading bay, smiling and posing for photos, chuckling when someone said, “You looked good out there,” as if Durant expected to perform as anything less than himself.

He was asked one last question, whether he regretted the extension that seemingly handcuffed him into this unnecessary mess instead of going back to work freely, free to choose a situation of his choosing.

“I don’t regret anything. I don’t regret anything I do in my life,” Durant said. “[Not] signing an extension worth so much money?

He laughed again – blissfully dismissive but always realistic.

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