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Suns-Warriors season opener loaded with extra emotion as Durant, Paul face former teams

Chris Paul faces the Suns, while Kevin Durant faces Warriors fans.

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Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

On Tuesday night, October 24, 2023, Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant will take the court as the opponent against the Golden State Warriors and more than 18,000 of his former home fans for the first time in four and a half years.

The last time Warriors fans watched Durant play basketball, he was one of their own, trying to win a third straight championship alongside Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Unfortunately, Durant suffered a calf strain during that run, and only made a brief appearance in the NBA Finals before snapping his Achilles and missing more than a year of basketball on his way to the Brooklyn Nets in free agency.

In the four years since, he’s had three chances to play in Oakland as a roadie, but was out for the Achilles rehab in year one, played in a fan-empty stadium in year two, and then missed the last two with injuries.

Per the inimitable Duane Rankin/AZ Central: Warriors officials confirmed Sunday a short video on Durant’s Finals-filled tenure will be played Tuesday during pre-game introductions.

“I’m excited to play in front of those fans,” Durant said of the upcoming game to media after practice on Sunday. “I had some incredible moments there and we built a bond that doesn’t really have to be spoken about, me and the fans in the Bay Area.”

“To win a championship, you’re just immortalized there, you know, no matter what your role was on the team. I’m excited to get back in front of people I call family there in that organization. Fans that I worked as hard I could for three years there. It should be fun.”

Durant is one of the top 10 players in the entire world, but Stephen Curry still reigns supreme among the game’s top 5 overall. Both are getting up there in age, both 35 years old, but are still dominating on a nightly basis.

I’m slightly curious how loud or mixed the crowd will be all night toward Durant. He’s been seen as the guy who jumped on the Warrior bandwagon as it was already going full steam, and the healthy original core kept winning after he left. That original core hadn’t ever lost a playoff series together from until this past summer of 2023. But still, the Durant/Curry et al. pairing was one of the greatest in league history.

On the other side, we get another ‘homecoming’ so to speak. Suiting up for the Warriors on Tuesday night, in the starting lineup even, will be former Suns All-NBA All-Star point guard Chris Paul.

The Suns traded the 38-year-old Paul to the Washington Wizards in June for Bradley Beal, only for the Warriors to acquire Paul for Jordan Poole a few weeks later. The Warriors are Chris Paul’s sixth NBA team.

His three years with the Suns were incredible, and indicative of Paul’s entire career. In three years with the Suns, Paul helped the Suns make their third-ever NBA Finals (2021) while himself making All-NBA teams (top 15 players in the NBA, top-6 among guards) and All-Star (top 24) in two of three seasons. With him at the helm, the Suns won more regular season and playoff games than any other NBA team.

Yet, he got injured in each playoffs, contributing to the Suns falling short all three times they had a great chance to win a title.

Now Paul finds himself on the Warriors after two summer trades that ended up putting him in a good spot: guaranteeing his $30 million salary one more season and keeping his Bird Rights intact to allow a team to re-sign him again next summer no matter their cap situation.

Will he fit in with the Warriors though? They acquired him, many think, just to rid themselves of me-first Jordan Poole. Paul is an odd fit with the Warriors due not only to play style but also because of his personality. His on-ball dominance and controlling leadership style could grate on a team and coach that’s made six Finals and won four championships without him. Add in his rapidly declining skills and, well, it’s going to be interesting.

For now, he’s in their starting lineup due to Draymond Green’s ankle sprain, but the Warriors had the best starting five in basketball last year — Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney — and probably will want Paul to come off the bench to lead the league-worst bench unit that ultimately ruined their playoff run.

Except Paul has never come off the bench in his career, and wouldn’t even entertain the questions throughout the summer when it came up in an interview.

For now, he’s starting, and yesterday he talked about his fit with the Warriors. Paul was on the Dubs Talk podcast, via NBC Sports Warriors

“I have 19 years of experience. The game hadn’t changed unless they started shooting with something different. I feel like what I’ve been fortunate is this isn’t my first time changing teams. It’s not the first time I’ve heard outside noise, so every time I change teams, everyone says “It’s not gonna work”,

And on Sirius XM, he says he knows how to play off the ball, though his last experience with that was in college.

“I didn’t forget how to play basketball.”

He says the fit has been seamless, but we haven’t seen him yet. Can’t wait.

Paul made some real connections with the Suns, but most of that old guard is gone now in this summer’s sweeping changes. Devin Booker is the only Phoenix Suns player remaining from the whole Paul tenure.

And check this out: The only other Suns player who will suit up on Tuesday that played more than 15 games with Paul in a Suns uni is.... Josh Okogie. Like WTFTFFTFTFTF?!?! That’s it. I’m sure there’s a ton of emotion for Paul toward Booker and lead assistant coach Kevin Young, but it’s not like he’s looking at his Finals ‘family’.

Next Up

The Suns open the season against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night at 7:00PM on TNT.

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