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Tracing the Kevin Durant trade back to Tokyo

Dwelling on the hurt of goodbyes and the promise of hellos


It doesn’t feel real. Days after the deed is done and it still doesn’t feel real yet. I doubt I’ll be able to even process it all before he suits up. Despite all my nonbelieving, the dream is now a reality: Kevin Durant is a Phoenix Sun.

Let’s rewind a bit so I can add my own insights to what’s already been reported about how this trade came to be. Maybe you heard about the trades that Phoenix planned to make.

Maybe you heard from read ESPN stories, like one from Woj that “the Suns appeared to be pivoting toward a three-way deal that might’ve landed them Atlanta’s John Collins sometime Thursday morning.”

Or one from Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst explaining that the “Nets knew the Suns were working through other trade scenarios. It was unclear whether they had decided to go in another direction.”

I can corroborate this a bit myself. I heard Wednesday evening from a source that a deal was done involving Jae Crowder that would be announced Thursday morning. That sounds to me like the Collins report has real life to it, though I can’t be certain on that front.

In his reporting, Woj explained that new owner, Mat Ishbia, picked the 3,000-pound marlin over the 14 trout:

On the direction of his new owner, Mat Ishbia, general manager James Jones texted Nets GM Sean Marks sometime after 11 p.m. ET — and it wouldn’t be long until Ishbia and Nets owner Joe Tsai had cobbled together the final elements of the blockbuster trade, sources said.

Instead of what would’ve been a marginal move, Ishbia, on his first official day of service as “steward” of the Phoenix Suns, pushed his chips into the middle of the table and got the deal done.

As for the deal itself, my initial reaction involved a lot of “ouch” and still does. Losing two key cogs like Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson was just devastating for me to take; like Devin Booker said after his first game played post-deadline, they were the “spirit” of this squad. In a lot of ways, they’ll have to replace their energies by committee.

My grief level in losing those twins remains just beyond my excitement level in acquiring Durant, but I’d imagine that changes after he dons the purple and orange for the first few occasions and the weirdness is knocked out of my system. That’s because this is certainly the right basketball move.

Be my guest in making claims like future All-Star this, future Defensive Player of the Year that, I don’t mind. Because what the Suns decided in making this trade is that tangible things that are supported by evidence matter! They’d rather have the guy who’s made the All-Star game 13 out of 15 seasons as opposed to two wings entering their late 20’s. I would too.

It’s Kevin freaking Durant. With opportunities like that in front of us, we should all be like Mat Ishbia, pushing all the chips in.

The writing on the wall for this deal can be followed in part to Tokyo when Durant and Booker co-starred for Team USA (granted, Durant was much more of the star as captain and becoming the all-time leading scorer in Team USA history over the course of the games).

The star-crossed hoopers became enamored with each other’s approach and style on the court. As Shelburne and Windhorst detail:

In Durant and Booker’s case, it was a crash course. With heavy COVID-19 measures in place for three solitary weeks, the Team USA members were together nonstop. And the two basketball-obsessed stars were drawn to each other... both are deeply dedicated to the game and just wanted to win. Their experience [winning the gold medal] together was so rewarding, they pondered doing it in the NBA someday.

I went back and watched each of the six games they played together in Tokyo, paying special attention to the minutes Durant and Booker shared. Did I go in expecting some beautiful highlight pairing (that bore future NBA titles) a la LeBron James and Dwyane Wade? Sure.

Was I disappointed in that respect? Yeah, it was a really rocky trip for Team USA, losing their first group stage game and facing double-digit deficits in almost every game. But that’s my fault for forgetting that Durant was fresh off his Achilles tear (he still dominated and was the main reason USA took gold) and Booker was fresh off a long NBA Finals series without practicing with USA.

They still managed to have their moments connecting on the floor. Plus, they clearly impressed each other off the floor on the trip as well, since this is where we’ve ended up in less than two years.

Durant’s scheme malleability is one of his more elite traits; everywhere he’s played he’s fit right in with whatever helps the team win. It’s why I’m giddy picturing what some of the established offensive sets within Monty Williams’ system would look like with an all-time offensive threat demanding gravity of his own.

It’s been a long time since Booker was on a team where he wasn’t the best player, but it only bodes well for him, feasting on the attention defenses must pay to all areas of the court.

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