After Returning from a Knee Ailment, Kevin Durant Makes His Phoenix Suns Debut
On Wednesday night against the Charlotte Hornets, Kevin Durant made his Phoenix Suns debut.
Fans stretched out their phones to capture video of Durant in his white jersey as he was introduced at Spectrum Center while wearing No. 35, to a thunderous ovation.
On his team’s initial possession, he missed a jump shot at the foul line, but a short while later, on a driving left-handed layup, he made his first basket for the Suns. The Suns quickly built a 9-0 lead thanks to Durant’s next two plays, which included a block of Hornets rookie center Mark Williams and a made 3-pointer from the left wing.
Durant led the Suns to a 105-91 victory over the Hornets with 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks while shooting 10-of-15 from the field (including 2-of-4 from three-point range).
He is anticipated to be limited in his playing time as he recovers from a knee injury that has kept him out since January. 8.
In a historic trade, the Suns gave up Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, and four first-round picks to acquire the 13-time All-Star from the Brooklyn Nets.
Expectations are high, and there is a different kind of excitement with Durant’s arrival, just like with his previous stops in Seattle, Oklahoma City, Golden State, and Brooklyn.
“You feel it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You feel it at the (team) hotel when people are lined up outside. You feel it in the gym. … Yeah, I feel it. I learned a long time ago that pressure and expectations are a privilege and you have to embrace those things because that is where the good stuff is.”
Williams acknowledged that anything less than an NBA title this season would feel disappointing, but he added that any of the top teams in the league would feel the same way.
Durant has experienced a lot over the course of his 15-year NBA career, but this is the first time he has switched teams mid-season.
“I have a lot of experience in the league, so the transition was a little easier than it would have been 10 years ago,” After practice on Tuesday, Durant said. “It’s a quick turnaround and everything happened so fast. But the game itself is what never changes.”
After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the NBA Finals of 2021, the Suns are hoping that the addition of Durant will help them get over the hump.
At 33-29 entering play on Wednesday, the Suns were fourth in the Western Conference, one game ahead of the Warriors, another of his former teams. The Denver Nuggets, who were in first place in the West, were 10 1/2 games ahead of Phoenix.
Williams anticipates that Durant will have a significant positive influence on his new teammates, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton.
“He’s more than a generational talent, he’s a historic talent,” Williams said. “From that standpoint you can use your imagination, just from a scoring standpoint. But I have tried to have an open mind about it not to box him in and say ‘he’s going to be this, this and that.’ So I’m looking forward to it as much as everybody else is.”
Durant continues to be at the top of his game, averaging 29 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists while shooting 55.9% from the field and 37.6% from 3-point range this year.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said the Suns are going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
“They now have the number one thing that you have to have to win close games in the playoffs – they have two guys who can draw help without the aid of the pick-and-roll,” Clifford said. “So if you just give Booker the ball, you have to help. You can’t guard him one-on-one. If you give Kevin the ball, nobody can guard him one-on-one. Nobody. Then you throw in the Chris Paul pick-and-roll piece with Ayton, the way he’s grown.
“Playoff basketball is going to come down to, and it’s always been the same thing, how many guys on the court can get a shot on their own, and then what can they do when they draw help? And they’re two of the best guys in the league. It certainly puts them in the conversation.”
Durant has spent the past couple of weeks getting to know his new teammates on a personal level, as well as how they operate on the floor while mostly watching from the sideline as he recovers from a sprained knee that has kept him out since Jan. 8.
He claimed that his knee had been pain-free for a few weeks.
He’s been trying to visualize where he fits into the Suns’ system and how he can have the biggest impact while learning the team’s plays.
“I know my versatility can help me a lot of different areas on both ends of the court,” Durant said. “Being able to shoot the ball from different areas of the floor can help me, even if I don’t know every small subtlety in a play I can still try to figure out just by movement and stuff.”