Kevin Durant with the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 6. He was traded to the Phoenix suns ahead of the NBA trade deadline in February. Jan 6, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) during warm ups before the game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

You wouldn’t think someone as accomplished as Kevin Durant would need validation. He’s a two-time NBA champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and a regular-season MVP. At the age of 34, he remains one of the best pure scorers in the history of the league. He doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody.

Or does he? The deadline trade that sent Durant from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns is one of the most seismic deals in recent memory. It could completely alter the playoff picture for the Suns (31-27), who have jumped to having the second-best odds to win the NBA Finals

Phoenix now has a projected starting lineup of Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, and Torrey Craig. On paper, no one in the Western Conference — perhaps none in the NBA — boasts a better fivesome. Durant should be thrilled, right? Well, it can be difficult to read the mercurial star. His journey over the past five seasons has been interesting.

Durant willingly left what could have been the greatest dynasty of the modern era. Those Golden State Warriors were a machine we haven’t seen since the 1990s Chicago Bulls. But he bolted as a free agent to form his star-studded team with Kyrie Irving and later James Harden.  It’s amazing and unfortunate that we only saw them play 16 games together. Also, a colossal failure. 

And yet, if not for Durant’s shoe size, the Nets would have beaten the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They might have gone on to win it all. The Nets’ story would be different, and Durant, Irving, and Harden might still be in Brooklyn.

Durant and Irving were unhappy with the team’s direction but must bear some responsibility. Nets ownership gave them a lot of power, and they didn’t meet the expectations of leadership. So, Durant has hit the reset button again. He seeks another championship and perhaps a little more validation.

Golden State won a title before Durant. Golden State won a title after Durant. That would sting anyone’s pride. No one questions Durant’s greatness. But the narrative that he took an easy path by joining the Warriors, who went 73-9 the season before he joined them, must be perpetually annoying. 

If Durant delivers Phoenix its first title, he’ll get the credit he has been seeking. The Suns were the best team in the league over the previous two seasons, reaching the 2021 NBA Finals and owning the top record (64-18) last year. They squandered a 2-0 NBA Finals lead to the Bucks, and last year they were upset by the Dallas Mavericks in the conference semifinals. 

Phoenix has struggled in the highly competitive Pacific Division where the defending champion Warriors are in fourth place, and LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers are at the bottom. The acquisition of Durant gives them a boost that should kick in once he’s healthy enough to play. He has been out with a knee strain since Jan, 8. Health will be key. Durant hasn’t appeared in more than 55 games since sitting out 2019-20 with a ruptured right Achilles.

On one hand, it’s remarkable that he is still playing at an All-Star level after that kind of injury. He’s eighth in the NBA in scoring (29.7) and eighth in player efficiency rating. On the other hand, load management has to be part of his routine. The goal is to have his body ready for the postseason.

Even if Durant doesn’t win it all this season. He figures to have a few more shots left. There’s already speculation that Irving could join the Suns as a free agent this summer. He would presumably take over for Paul as the starting point guard. 

Durant didn’t find what he was looking for in Brooklyn. He might find it in Phoenix.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.