Suns reset with Kevin Durant in building, focus on not skipping steps

Feb 13, 2023, 3:44 PM
Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at U...
Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center on January 04, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — He was shooting on the opposite side of the Phoenix Suns’ practice facility, some 75-100 feet away. Even then, it was hard to miss him.

With Monday’s practice wrapped, the Suns were in their typical groups across four baskets. And there was Kevin Durant, in Suns gear and all.

Durant, working his way back from an MCL sprain in his right knee that has kept him out the last 16 games, certainly looked spry.

Head coach Monty Williams declined to comment on Durant’s status, a timeline or how much he did but the Suns did rule him out for the remaining two games before the All-Star break, which was the expectation in Brooklyn as well.

Durant is obviously a presence, and not just because of his size. Williams in the past spoke on his time with Team USA and how Durant set a different tone than most.

“Kevin (Durant), he’s the greatest player probably in the league right now, and every day he was like, ‘Coach what you got?’” Williams said in Dec. 2021 while chuckling, noting Durant pushed him to be at his best as a coach. “And I was like, ‘Alright.’”

Durant is widely known as a diligent worker, and believe me, that’s the type of attribute that has a way of holding everyone else accountable. We saw some of that effect when Chris Paul got to the Valley, and Durant will only elevate that.

“I think anybody that comes into our gym, you’re probably going to stick out like a sore thumb if you don’t work hard but when you have a really good player that works like he does, it is something cool to watch,” Williams said Monday.

“I think the gym we have and the culture we’ve tried to build here allows for guys like that to come in and fit but I do think it does have a huge impression on anybody that watches somebody that’s accomplished that much,” Williams added on Durant. “Watching how hard they go and how much they love it. … I know for me, being in the gym with the great ones or really good players that bring it like that every day, it made me want to get after it.”

There is still a task at hand, however, one Phoenix will have to tackle without Durant over these two games.

It must have felt good for the Suns to have these few days to themselves. After the emotional goodbyes for Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson at the team hotel on Thursday, they were thrust into a back-to-back.

Following Friday’s win over the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix had three days to settle.

“It was cool for us just to be able to be at home for one with a win and then have a few days to process everything that’s happened,” Williams said.

The head coach was able to take in the Super Bowl hosted at Glendale’s State Farm Stadium on Sunday, a chance for Williams to “get away from the game” and meet some other prominent figures in sports.

Everything, of course, will work its way back toward Durant. That is the reality of having an NBA superstar as a part of your franchise. There is a new sense of excitement around the Valley and it’s not going away anytime soon.

If there is anyone to take advice from as a head coach in a unique situation, it’s the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who texted Williams with a message of “don’t skip steps.”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever embraced excitement,” Williams said of it. “For me, I think you have to do your best job of taking one day at a time. It sounds like a cliché but I think it’s human nature for everyone to look ahead. … We know that we have a lot of work to do.”

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