PHOENIX — It’s no drama around Kevin Durant, a notion that hasn’t been explored in quite some time.
No trade demand awkwardly hovering over his relationship with a front office and management, no emotionally tethered teammate he has to answer for. And no impending free agency taking up all the oxygen in every room for every game he participates in.
All that’s in front of him is a basketball mortality he readily acknowledges, and some peace in just being able to be one of the many good teams with a chance to win an NBA championship.
“That stuff helps, it’s good to have stability,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “To be able to know what you’re going into. Last year [in Brooklyn], I didn’t know until right before training camp what was going to happen. But it was good to build with the team throughout the whole summer.”
All along it seems Durant has craved stability even as mini-controversies came and went. Because of the never-ending cycle of news and rumors with the NBA, it feels like Durant’s initial trade demand from the imploding Brooklyn Nets — which was just one offseason ago — was a decade ago. It took a truce between he and the Nets initially, then he got his wish in the quiet of the midseason.
The same thing can almost be said for the acquisition of Bradley Beal, giving the Suns three of the most potent scorers in today’s game. Everything with Damian Lillard and the impending James Harden saga almost put the Beal blockbuster into the background.
He knows the questions about the Suns needing a point guard, but brushes them off — choosing to put his faith in talent and basketball IQ.
You ask him about the possibility of stopping Nikola Jokić and he’ll reply, “Who’s stopping us?”, as the Suns at full strength will be downright illegal to stop with Durant, Beal and Devin Booker — it’s hard to find a team with two plus perimeter defenders, let alone three, let alone one with the height or girth to bother Durant.
He shrugs his shoulders and smiles easily, taking pictures with relatives of players following a preseason game. There’s still an edge to how he plays on the floor, but it’s not accompanied by the extra stress.
Maybe because it’s early, or maybe it’s because he’s actually … happy?
The trades for Durant and Beal were engineered by the desire of incoming team owner Mat Ishbia — Durant traded to Phoenix within hours of Ishbia being approved as governor. Only playing eight regular-season games (he slipped and injured his ankle before his home debut) might’ve made it a bit clunky, but Durant had an offseason to get his feet underneath him.
“Yeah, I got to know Mat Ishbia more, to know Josh [Bartelstein, Suns CEO] and James [Jones, Suns general manager] and then once Frank [Vogel, head coach] came on and get to know him, as well,” Durant said.
But in other ways, Durant uses his voice, admitted to being vocal in the Beal acquisition.
“I just want to be aware on making decisions, who should be on the team, I give my suggestions and input and hopefully they take it in and value my opinion,” Durant said. “But if they don’t, I still come to work and do my job.”
It speaks to a trust he has with management, a relationship all star players are expected to have. Durant could feel jaded about those things, given how things have unfolded at his last two stops.
And in a way, he’s just like most NBA consumers, he wants to know the gossip, too.
“Not just our team. I’d like to see how stuff is working behind the scenes because a lot of [stuff] moving, but that we don’t see from the surface level,” Durant said. “So I feel like I’ve always been interested in that side of the game. I think that they are involving the players and asking our input, which is cool.”
It almost sounds like he’s looking ahead to the next stage of his basketball life. It’s hard to believe, but Durant just turned 35. Most NBA greats were well on their way to retirement or at the very least having diminished effectiveness. LeBron James still working at a high level has changed the paradigm on aging, and it seems like his age is the only one the NBA world seems to pay attention to.
But Durant is entering Year 17, and in those 47 games he still shot a ridiculous 56/40/92 slash line, averaging 29 with seven rebounds and five assists. If Jokić is at the top of the NBA’s individual mountain, Durant isn’t very far behind.
He knows he’ll be coming down that mountain at some point, though.
“You think about your second phase of your life all the time,” Durant said. “Older guys used to say, ‘Think about what you wanna do when you’re done.’ As you get older in the league and closer to 40 like I’m hitting, you start thinking about it, what would my life be without the NBA? Half my life has been 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 retired guys and see how they feel.”
He recently wrote the foreword to George Gervin’s book, “Ice: Why I Was Born to Score,” and in it, talked about meeting Gervin as a young pro and hearing stories.
“Guys had the same thoughts at their age that I’m having,” Durant said. “Not like they want to be done with the game, but it is creeping up on you.”
Durant will be 37 when his contract with the Suns is up. Even if you can’t assume health, Durant’s game is one that should age gracefully. Missing time due to some of his injuries has saved a bit of mileage on his body, and he doesn’t seem like one who’ll 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’s still excited about going to another Olympic Games next summer, still upbeat about the prospects of the coming season.
“I like the identity we’re building, I like the days we’ve been stacking,” Durant said. “We’ve got talent. That’s half the battle in sports is to have the talent. Now, it’s on us to put it together. I’m excited about the talent being bought in. I like what we’re doing, the attention to detail. We’ve got a good start, we just gotta see how it goes.”