Durant cheered by fans, says Suns have ‘all the pieces’
Feb 16, 2023, 12:46 AM | Updated: Feb 17, 2023, 7:28 am
(AP Photo/Matt York)
PHOENIX (AP) — Kevin Durant watched the Phoenix Suns from afar over the past few years, admiring the budding nucleus of Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.
Now he’s thrilled to be a part of it.
“We’ve got all the pieces to be successful,” Durant said.
The 13-time All-Star was introduced Thursday on the floor at Footprint Arena in front of about 3,000 fans, who showed up in the middle of the afternoon just to hear the veteran forward answer a few questions.
Many were already wearing his No. 35 jersey, which has been a hot seller at the downtown fan store since GM James Jones pulled the blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets just before last week’s trade deadline.
Nearly every time Durant tried to speak on Thursday, he was interrupted by cheers from fans overjoyed by the biggest superstar arrival in Phoenix since the Suns traded for Charles Barkley in 1992.
The two-time Finals MVP soaked in the applause, but said he didn’t deserve it.
“I appreciate your warm welcome, but we’ve got work to do,” Durant said.
He later added: “I feel like I’ve still got to prove myself. I want to put good stuff on film every day. That’s the only thing I’m concerned with at this point in my life, is putting good stuff on film every night. I’m looking forward to doing that for Suns fans and hopefully they accept me after that.”
The 34-year-old Durant is still playing at an elite level, averaging nearly 30 points per game this season. He initially asked for a trade last summer and the Suns were interested before Durant patched things up with Brooklyn. They finally got him, less than 24 hours before the trade deadline.
The Suns paid a hefty price, sending Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, first-round picks in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, and other draft compensation to the Nets. Bridges was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year while Johnson has evolved into a versatile scorer.
Bridges, Johnson and Crowder were all instrumental in the team’s run to the Finals two years ago, where it lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
Durant is recovering from a sprained knee ligament, and when he returns he will join a Phoenix lineup that suddenly could be one of the best in the Western Conference. He said he hopes to be back soon after the All-Star break.
He became choked up talking about his time in Brooklyn, where he signed after rupturing his Achilles tendon playing for Golden State in the 2019 NBA Finals. A potential championship contender was broken up when first Kyrie Irving and then Durant asked for trades and then were dealt before the deadline.
“Everybody who was in that gym, we grinded, so I love those guys,” Durant said. “I get emotional talking about them, because that was a special four years of my career, coming off an Achilles, and they helped me through a lot.
“So yeah, it was terrible how some stuff went down, but at the end of the day I loved the grind and we all loved the grind there in Brooklyn and I wish them the best going forward. They’ve got a bright future.”
Durant and Booker played together on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
“I think I’ve built my game around being efficient, taking good shots, making good plays on both ends of the floor,” Durant said. “I think my defense feeds my offense. I like to take shots in the mid-range, I like to cut to the basket, I like to do the little things throughout the offense and I think that’s what makes you a versatile player and adapt to any offense.”
The Suns were on the upswing even before Durant’s arrival. They struggled with injuries for most of the first half of the year, but have won 11 of their last 14 games and entered Thursday fourth in the West at 32-27 — one-half game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, their opponent Thursday night.
Booker (groin) and Paul (hip) have both recently returned.
Now the Suns are adding one of the game’s most gifted scorers.
Phoenix has never won an NBA championship, losing in the finals in 1976, 1993 and 2021.
“That’s why we play the game of basketball,” Durant said. “We understand that. But I’m more concerned about what we do every day as a team, what you guys don’t see. I think that’s what really brings championships.”
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