PHOENIX — There’s no Kevin Durant drama, a notion that hasn’t been explored in quite some time.
No trade demand hovering awkwardly over his relationship with a front office and management, no emotionally attached teammate to answer for. And no looming free agency that will use up all the oxygen in every room for every game he plays in.
The only thing ahead of him is a basketball mortality that he readily acknowledges, and some peace in just being able to be one of the many good teams that have a chance to win an NBA championship.
“It helps, it’s good to have stability,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “To know what you’re getting into. Last year [in Brooklyn]I didn’t know what was going to happen until shortly before training camp. But it was good to work with the team all summer.”
It seems that Durant has longed for stability all along, even as minor controversies have come and gone. Due to the never-ending cycle of news and rumors with the NBA, it feels like Durant’s first trade demand from the imploding Brooklyn Nets – which was just an offseason ago – was a decade ago. It first took a truce between him and the Nets, then in the quiet of midseason he got his wish.
The same almost applies to the acquisition of Bradley Beal, who gives the Suns three of the strongest scorers in today’s game. Everything with Damian Lillard and the upcoming James Harden saga almost made the Beal blockbuster take a backseat.
He knows the questions about the Suns needing a point guard, but brushes them aside and chooses to rely on talent and basketball IQ.
You ask him about the possibility of stopping Nikola Jokić and he replies, “Who’s going to stop us?”, since with the Suns at full strength it would be completely illegal to stop with Durant, Beal and Devin Booker – it’s hard to do one team to find two or more fullbacks, let alone three, let alone one with the size or scope to bother Durant.
He shrugs and smiles slightly as he takes photos with relatives of players after a preseason game. The way he plays on the floor still has a certain appeal, but it doesn’t come with any additional stress.
Maybe because it’s still early, or maybe because he’s actually…happy?
The trades for Durant and Beal were initiated at the request of new team owner Mat Ishbia – Durant moved to Phoenix within hours of Ishbia’s appointment as governor. Playing just eight games in the regular season (he slipped and injured his ankle before his home debut) might have made it a little cumbersome, but Durant had an offseason to get back on his feet.
“Yes, I got to know Mat Ishbia better, Josh [Bartelstein, Suns CEO] and James [Jones, Suns general manager] and then once Frank [Vogel, head coach] “Come over and meet him too,” Durant said.
Vogel spent some time with Durant over the summer after he was hired after the Suns parted ways with Monty Williams, calling Durant the type of guy who leads by example and has long been associated with.
But in other ways, Durant is using his voice, which admittedly played an important role in the Beal takeover.
“When making the decision, I just want to know who should be on the team. I give my suggestions and input and hope that they accept and value my opinion,” said Durant. “But if not, I’ll still come to work and do my job.”
That shows a level of trust he has in management, a relationship expected of all star players. Given developments at his last two stops, Durant may be exhausted about these things.
And in a way, he’s just like most NBA consumers and wants to hear the gossip, too.
“Not just our team. I would like to see how things work behind the scenes because many [stuff] “It’s moving, but we can’t see it from the surface,” Durant said. “So I feel like I’ve always been interested in that side of the game. I think they’re engaging the players and getting our input, which is cool.”
It almost sounds like he’s looking ahead to the next phase of his basketball life. It’s hard to believe, but Durant just turned 35. Most NBA greats were heading toward retirement or at least reduced effectiveness. LeBron James, still performing at a high level, has changed the paradigm of aging, and it seems his age is the only thing the NBA world seems to pay attention to.
But Durant is in his 17th grade and has still shot a ridiculous 56/40/92 in those 47 games, averaging 29 with seven rebounds and five assists. If Jokić is at the top of the NBA individual mountain, Durant isn’t far behind.
However, he knows he will get down this mountain eventually.
“You constantly think about the second phase of life,” Durant said. “Older men always said, ‘Think about what you want to do when you’re done.’ As you get older in the league and approach 40 like me, you start to think: What would my life be without the NBA? I’ve spent half my life in the NBA, I don’t know what it’s like to not prepare for basketball. Of course I think about it, I talk to pensioners and see how they feel.”
He recently wrote the foreword to George Gervin’s book “Ice: Why I Was Born to Score” and talked about meeting Gervin and hearing stories as a young professional.
“Men their age had the same thoughts as me,” Durant said. “You don’t want to be done with the game, but it starts to scare you.”
Durant will be 37 when his contract with the Suns expires. While he can’t be assumed to be healthy, Durant’s game should age gracefully. The lack of time due to some of his injuries has taken some of the mileage out of his body, and he doesn’t seem like the type to retire while still being effective and All-Star caliber.
“Who knows? Who knows? But I want to play as long as I can,” Durant said.
He is still looking forward to competing in the Olympics again next summer and is still optimistic about the prospects for the coming season.
“I like the identity we’re building, I like the days we spent,” Durant said. “We have talent. That’s half the battle in sports: having talent. Now it’s up to us to put it together. I am happy about the talent we have acquired. I like what we do, the attention to detail. We’re off to a good start, we’ll just have to see how it goes.”