Kevin Durant was not on the court for his Phoenix Suns’ 119-116 win over the Knicks on Sunday.
Rather, the Suns’ star scorer sat out with a foot injury and was a simple spectator from the bench when Devin Booker hit the dagger three with 1.7 seconds remaining. Phoenix acquired Durant from the Brooklyn Nets for Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson last February.
Durant, as expected has thrived in Phoenix. He ranks second in the league in scoring with 31.4 points per game. The 35-year-old is also still effective, shooting over 52% from three and owning a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 65.7%. He is unquestionably a future Hall of Famer.
And yet, Durant’s move to the Suns was completely melancholic. A free agency summer worthy of LeBron James’ “Decision” in 2010. Questions about an Achilles injury which saw him sit out the first year of that contract. An idea for a Brooklyn superteam gone horribly wrong.
Five years later, what was it all about?
We all remember the summer of 2019. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Kawhi Leonard were all free agents and the Knicks had enough cap space to sign two of the three. Instead, Durant and Irving spurned Madison Square Garden for the Barclays Center and signed with the Nets.
Some of the New York faithful, myself included, were understandably disappointed:
— Josh Benjamin (@JoshBESNY) June 30, 2019
Instead, the Knicks had to settle for a consolation prize: Julius Randle. As an added bonus, the team also drafted RJ Barrett with the No. 3 pick in that year’s NBA Draft. And yet, there was still lingering disappointment over not getting Zion Williamson at No. 1.
Fast forward to today, and five years’ worth of NBA action provide plenty of hindsight. The vaunted Kevin Durant free agency turned into a glorified soap opera. Irving was good when he played, but the usual off-court drama followed him. A trade for James Harden failed after that drama spilled into the locker room and Harden demanded a trade.
Durant is in Phoenix and still objectively great. Irving is playing well alongside Luka Doncic in Dallas, and yet almost seems an afterthought. Harden is now a Los Angeles Clipper following his latest trade request.
As for the Knicks? They’re the best they’ve looked in over 20 years. Randle went from being free agency’s consolation prize to an All-NBA talent and winning Most Improved Player in 2021. Even with his ridiculous refusal to speak with the media, team president Leon Rose had made it so the New York Knicks are no longer a laughingstock. A basketball punchline. The NBA’s big-market court jester as provided by King James Dolan, a different fool in his own right.
And speaking of fools, what of Kevin Durant’s latest errand in Phoenix? The Suns didn’t have him or another star in Bradley Beal on Sunday, and yet they still outplayed the Knicks for most of the game. Granted, it’s one night, but how valuable is a player who, though great, doesn’t seem missed on the court? Phoenix has won seven in a row, and the last two without Durant.
It was supposed to be different. Kevin Durant won his two rings with Steph Curry and the Warriors and, with Kyrie Irving by his side, would now lead the scrappy Brooklyn Nets down the same path. They would start a new New York dynasty and become the new top team in the Big Apple.
Instead, the Knicks rebuilt and refocused and are playing their best basketball since the ’90s. They also finally got their big free agency signing in Jalen Brunson.
And Brooklyn, despite it all, is doing quite well. Mikal Bridges has paired well alongside Cam Thomas. Jacque Vaughn has the Nets in a similar position to what they were under coach Kenny Atkinson, one year before Durant. A young, feisty, energetic team hungry to grow, develop, and improve together.
So what does that make the Kevin Durant Era and everything leading up to it? Again, it was a soap opera. In some cases, maybe even a circus worthy of Ringling Bros. And because we’re human, we automatically lament of what was supposed to be.
Who knows, maybe the right chips will fall into place and Kevin Durant will win a championship as a team’s go-to guy. Until then, however, all we can do is look back and sigh.