- Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.
ATLANTA — Kevin Durant hasn’t played a game yet for the Phoenix Suns, but his presence on the roster already is paying dividends for them.
Players and coaches spoke openly about how much they believe Durant will help the team in a variety of ways after he and T.J. Warren were sent to Phoenix from the Nets for a package of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and a slew of first- and second-round draft picks.
“I think it’s more than a lift,” Suns coach Monty Williams said after a 116-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night. “I think it’s a jolt, if that makes sense. Just because of, not just who he is as a player, but his love for the game. I think the guys are going to see something that they may not have seen before as far as his approach and how much he just loves to play basketball.
“I think if he could hoop every day, 24/7 he would do that and I think that’s who we are. And so to be able to have someone like that in your gym, but who’s also ultratalented, and one of the best to ever do it, I think it’s going to not just compliment what we do, it’s gonna uplift and give us a bit of a jolt.”
Veteran guard Chris Paul agreed.
Paul, who said he’s known Durant since the former MVP was a camper at Five Star Basketball Camp years ago, said he is “excited,” to play with the future Hall of Famer.
“What KD say in that interview one time? What did he say? Y’all know who he is,” Paul said. “So you add him to the daggone who is that that the Harlem Globetrotters play against all the time? The Washington Generals. You add him to them and they’re going to be nice. You know what I mean? KD is different, man. He different. That’s why he is who he is. He’s been doing it in this league for a long time. We got to see what it is.”
With Durant on board, Suns center DeAndre Ayton left no doubt where he believes his team has the ability to get to at the end of the season.
“Damn right,” Ayton said when asked if he felt the pieces were now in place for the Suns to win a title this year. “You damn right. That’s how I feel. Where we’re at, especially at the start of the season, we lost a few games and we seen what it’s like. I think we got punched in the face so many times where we’ve adapted and accepted to where, we’ve accepted adversity, it helped build confidence to where we’ve been in situations where a team threw everything at us to stop us even though we didn’t have the right pieces on the court … knowing what these teams can throw at us, we’re ready for it man and it’s going to be real fun because it’s so many pieces, golly. It’s trouble and it’s fun because it’s about time. We got the firepower for real and you can feel it.”
Both Paul and Williams are confident that Durant’s presence on the roster will be a big plus for the young Suns players who are still trying to learn the game.
“It’s one of the best players to ever play the game,” Paul said. “Just to know how he approaches the game, his nickname’s Easy Money, just somebody who loves the game like that. I think that’s what brought me and Book closer together because he just love to hoop. And KD, he just love to hoop. So I’m excited about the process of building this team.”
Williams is also confident that Durant will be able to find a rhythm with Paul and Devin Booker early as the trio helps everybody else adjust to playing with the 34-year-old All Star.
“We got a chance to be really good,” Williams said. “We got to get a rhythm, we got to understand how we can play together — Kevin can play with anybody. Any team in the league he can find a way to play. Same with Book, same with Chris [Paul] so it’s on us to figure out the guys around those guys and how [DeAndre Ayton] fits and all of that. But we have some time for that … we’ll figure out all that stuff as we go forward.”
Williams and several Suns players acknowledged how emotional the finality of Thursday’s trade hit everybody in the locker room.
“There’s a human side to all of this that you have to deal with,” Williams said before the game. “It was an emotional day talking to those guys. I got to see them before they took off and it was emotional. Those two are near and dear to my heart. They literally are like my family.”
Now the Suns will have to build a new part of their family with Durant at the center of everything. It’s a challenge that players and coaches are excited about. Paul said he had already spoken to Durant and is looking forward to finally getting a chance to play with him. While Durant remains out because of a sprained MCL in his right knee suffered on Jan. 8th, the Suns, like the Nets before them, remain optimistic that he will be back sooner than later.
So is Durant excited about the deal?
“I mean, he ain’t mad,” Paul said with a chuckle. “But it’s also a lot for him. He’s been there in Brooklyn for a while. I think that’s the thing, I get it, it’s definitely exciting — but there’s a lot that goes into this stuff, man.
“Obviously guys are changing teams but guys got their families. [Mikal Bridges] and Cam [Johnson]’s settled in Phoenix. KD done built a whole business and he’s a big figure there in Brooklyn, New York. So it’s a lot to deal with. So I think everybody got to figure it out. It just happened.”
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