Photo By Aaron Schmidt/Cronkite News: A large group of fans were invited to attend the press conference introducing Kevin Durant on Thursday. It was a festive atmosphere with “Durant” chants, videos, and T-shirt tosses.
By Addison Kalmbach/Cronkite News
PHOENIX – The unusually chilly day in Phoenix was countered by the heat of excitement as superstar Kevin Durant walked across the Footprint Center court. Yells and cheers from children to adults greeted the NBA superstar, who smiled as he put his hand up and welcomed support from fans that filled one side of the arena.
“I felt the excitement as soon as I got off the plane. (Thank you, everyone) for giving me a warm welcome, and I still feel like I got to prove myself every day,” the new Phoenix Suns acquisition said Thursday in his first official press conference with the media.
Durant will not only impact this team with his scoring ability but also his leadership and his top-of-his-game defensive skills.
“It’s just work ethic,” Booker said Tuesday. “I know it’s kind of cliche, but the first one in the gym (and) last one to leave. In the first couple of practices, we’re watch(ing) from a distance. He was going full throttle and he was ready to go. It was contagious.
“He was bringing a lot of people along with him. Every day he had somebody different in his workout. You could just tell that he was pushing it. It’s bringing the best out of everybody around.”
Booker is not the only one to be excited that Durant is playing in Phoenix.
“As far as Devin, he just has a pure game,” Durant said. “He can score on any area on the court he’s just efficient on and off the court.”
Durant’s arrival came in dramatic fashion, beginning Saturday night.
Twelve hours after he was officially named the new Suns and Mercury owner, Mat Ishbia shocked the entire NBA community with a late-night trade for superstar Kevin Durant.
In arguably the biggest trade in franchise history, the trade involved sending defensive specialist Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round draft picks in 2023, 2025, 2027, and 2029, and a 2028 first-round pick swap to the Brooklyn Nets. The Suns also received T.J. Warren from Brooklyn.
Durant was the main target for the Suns in the off-season when he suddenly requested a trade from the Nets after Kyrie Irving and James Harden failed to go as expected. The trio played only 16 games together.
The deal was made in private as Durant did not want to create the attention he did in the summer as teams sought to pursue him with trades. His preferred destination was Phoenix.
This trade immediately made the Suns the favorite to win the West, and they have the third-best overall odds to win the NBA Finals, according to the FanDuel sportsbook.
“I know what a championship would mean to this city,” Durant said.
Some consider the deal a risky one for the Suns as they sent away two valuable players with NBA Finals experience in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Bridges is one of the best overall defenders in the league with his length and ability to pursue passing lanes and make ballhandlers uncomfortable. Johnson provides great shooting along with his height. The organization also sent away future picks that could have provided future help with aging stars in both Durant and Chris Paul.
At the same time, however, it’s Kevin Durant. A player like the former MVP and two-time NBA Finals MVP does not come available that often, and with Booker in his prime and Ayton elevating his game, it could just be what the Suns need to finally get over the hump and win their first championship.
The people behind the scenes are not to be forgotten either, Durant said. They are the ones who put the team together and have to make tough decisions in order to put the organization in a position to succeed.
“The coach was always the leader … he’s the one that’s giving us you know the pointers on what we need to do,” Durant said. “I’m looking forward to being coached by Monty Williams and his staff.”
The right pieces are set just as the All-Star break approaches, and Durant shared a message oozing with confidence.
“I’m a winner,” he said. “I am one of the best to ever play this game.”
With Durant set to return after the All-Star break, the city of Phoenix awaits the next chapter of the Suns’ history with hopes of winning its first championship.