DAN BICKLEY

Phoenix has chance to be Kevin Durant’s city of redemption

Feb 1, 2024, 1:23 PM

Somewhere down the road, Kevin Durant will return to Footprint Center. Maybe he’s a graybeard in the sweet haze of retirement. Maybe he’s a newly minted member of the Hall of Fame. Or maybe he’s compiling stats and playing out the string as a 40-year-old member of another NBA team.

Whatever the occasion, here’s hoping Durant gets a hero’s welcome in his return to the Valley. With no mixture of boos and cheers, like he experienced in Brooklyn. With no complicated blend of respect and contempt, as he receives in Northern California and Oklahoma City.

He deserves nothing less. A player of his magnitude deserves to be loved unconditionally by an adoring fan base at some point in his professional career. Especially if he leads the Suns to their first title in 56 years.

Durant had another transcendent performance on Wednesday, another milepost in his first full season in Phoenix. He stepped into the crucible of an uncertain homecoming in Brooklyn, after advising the Nets to forgo a tribute video, displaying the kind of self-awareness that should be taught in all NBA boarding schools.

For two days, smart media types debated the impact of Durant’s return to Brooklyn and how his reunion might be received inside Barclays Center. After all, he is the greatest individual talent to ever wear a Nets uniform, just like he was in Oklahoma City, just like he is in Phoenix.

He also ejected himself from a super team of his own making, twice asking to be traded from the Nets, tired of the dysfunction from teammates of his choosing.

Yet a remarkable thing seemed to happen inside all of the noise and chaos: Durant felt totally at home in his return to Brooklyn. He heard the cheers. He heard the boos. He heard the glorious silence that came with his dominant 33-point performance.

He effectively put the game and the moment into a headlock. And as the night wore on — despite all the contempt New Yorkers might feel for that failed super team of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — you could almost feel the appreciation and connection between Durant and his previous employers/city/fan base.

There are encouraging signs that Durant might find a better connection and a better ending on Planet Orange.

If the Suns close out their road trip with expected victories in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., they will be 10 games over .500. They will possess 30 wins after 50 games. These are numbers that suddenly command your attention, especially after a ragged start.

There is a growing feeling that the Suns are fast becoming the third most dangerous team in the Western Conference, not far behind the Nuggets and the Clippers. That’s real progress.

In the end, maybe we’ve had it all wrong. Maybe Durant wasn’t sent to Phoenix to end our curse or help Devin Booker find validation and win his first NBA championship.

Maybe we were meant to be the city of redemption for one of the greatest players in NBA history, giving Durant the support, the love, the fan base and the sidekick he’s always needed.

Either way works for me. How about you?

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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