Here is everything Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant, majority owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones said during the Durant’s introductory press conference Thursday afternoon.
Ishbia: “So real quickly, Valley, thank you for having us. Excited to be here today with you guys. Appreciate you all coming out here for a special day in Phoenix. We obviously got the guy next to us (Durant), we’re going to introduce in a second. But really appreciate you guys being here, we’re going to have a lot of fun. Excited to be here with everybody and be in Phoenix with all of you guys. I’m going to turn it over to the guy that makes all the trades, makes everything happen for us, does a heck of a job for us. Give a round of applause for Mr. James Jones!
Jones: “Are we ready? (Crowd cheers) I asked a real question. Are we ready? (Crowd cheers) I just want to thank everyone for being here today. For all the fans, everywhere in Phoenix and out in space, this is a great day for our franchise. I took this job a few years ago, determined to try to build a team built for championships. And I think we’ve reached the point where we’ve been able to add arguably one of the greatest players to ever play this sport. It’s taken a lot of hard work, a lot of determination, a lot of commitment from the fans and everyone inside and outside this building. But I stand here today proud and happy to introduce No. 35 for the Phoenix Suns, Kevin Durant.
Durant: “Wow, wow. I appreciate it. I appreciate it. I truly don’t think I deserve all of this, because I know I’ve done a lot of good things in basketball, but I haven’t done them yet in a Suns jersey. I’m looking forward to doing it. So I want to go out there and do as most as I can and to the best that I can every day for you guys. So I appreciate the warm welcome, but I got more work to do.”
With this summer, obviously this was a destination for you. But I can go back to the [2018-19] season, when you spoke highly of the Suns’ young core. You mentioned (Suns shooting guard) Devin (Booker) and Deandre (Ayton) and (former Suns forward who was acquired with Durant from the Brooklyn Nets before the trade deadline) T.J. Warren. So obviously, you’ve had respect for the franchise way back then. But what was it about this current group that made you want to come here and play?
“They experienced a lot the last couple years. You see the growth in this team, when (Suns coach) Monty (Williams) took over, when James came here. I see the culture started to change, the way they played on the floor, the energy they played with started to change. I always loved playing here in Phoenix, the fans always showed love to just good basketball in general. They always cheered their fans on, but they showed love to the opposing team as well. I knew this would be a great place to play and a great place to continue to get better as a player. You got somebody like Devin, Chris, (Suns point guard) Chris Paul and (Suns center) Deandre Ayton, guys that work and I wanted to be a part of that. So I’m excited I’m here, I’m looking forward to trying to add as much as I can to the group already. Like I’ve said, they’ve built themselves up and built an infrastructure for themselves already, and I’m looking forward to adding to it.”
Adaptability and versatility has been a huge part of your career, and as you saw in Tokyo (in the 2020 Olympics) firsthand, Devin Booker did what (San Antonio Spurs and Team USA coach) [Gregg Popovich] needed him to do to help you guys win. What do you think it takes for a player to adapt and be versatile like you have and how do you think Booker meshes with you in that regard?
“I think I built my game around being efficient, taking good shots. Making good plays on both ends of the floor. I think my defense feeds my offense. So I like to take shots in the mid-range, I like to cut to the basket, I like to do the little things throughout the offense. And I think that’s what makes you a versatile player and be able to adapt to any offense. Just being able to space the floor and use my skill to help other players. So I’ve been doing that my whole career, I’m looking forward to playing with somebody like Book, who plays kind of similar to how I play. We use the same spots on the floor, but trying to do it quick and efficient. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Have you gotten a sense of what it would mean to this fan base to win a title, and what would it mean to you personally?
“Yeah, I mean, that’s why we play the game of basketball. We understand that. But I’m more concerned about what we do every day as a team, the stuff that you guys don’t see. I think that’s what really brings championships and puts us in a position to win a championship, is the work that we put in every day, so I’m looking forward to doing that. But I know how significant a championship is to a franchise and to a city. And I’ve been a part of two of those, and I’m looking forward to getting back on that road to try to do it again. But I know how tough it is and how hard it is. And this fan base is looking forward to cheering for a winner. I want to go out there, prove every night that we got a chance to win. And that starts with the work that we put in every day in practice.”
You’ve played on some teams that have had stars like yourself. And in your experience, sometimes those things work, sometimes they don’t. In your experience, what is like a key ingredient to have all that come together and you get the chemistry that you need to succeed at a high level?
“It starts with James and Monty, in my opinion. They’re the leaders of the team. They oversee what we do every day. Monty is the one that’s supposed to put everybody in positions to be successful. And on the great teams that I’ve played on, that’s what it always was. The coach was always the leader, and we spread his message on the floor and we extend on the floor. But he’s the one that’s giving us the pointers of what we need to do. So looking forward to being taught by Monty, being coached by Monty and the staff. And everybody here, I’ve been to a couple practices already and the attention to detail is something that I love. And if we continue to stay on that path every day, we’ll see good things.”
What do you make of the excitement here today, the fans that are here today? And Mat, did you envision this when you bought the team?
Ishbia: “Well, I’m excited. So I love seeing the fans out here. Coming to Phoenix, being a part of this with James and Monty, and of course, Devin and now Kevin and Chris, the whole team. It’s just an honor getting a chance to spend time with them. But I’m excited just like all of you guys. And Phoenix, it’s got the best fans in the country. So I’m proud to be [inaudible, fans cheering] with you.”
KD: “Yeah, I could feel the excitement as soon as I got off the plane. Everywhere I’ve been so far, fans have been giving me a warm welcome. But I still feel like I got to prove myself every day. They set a high standard for the players here. I could tell by how much, how dedicated they are to the team. So it’s a high standard set every night for each player, and I want to reach that every day. So I feel like I still got to prove myself. I want to put good stuff on film every day. That’s the only thing I’m concerned with at this point is my life, is putting good stuff on the film every night. So I’m looking forward to doing that for the Suns fans and hopefully accept me after that.”
You’ve obviously won championships before. You know what a championship team looks like. Do you feel like you could win a championship with this team, and what is it about you that tends to make the players around you better?
“I think we got all the pieces to be successful. We got guys that are experienced, what it’s like to play in that final round. We got a champion already (Jones) overseeing us. Monty is a champion as a coach. So we’ve got guys that have been there, and that’s half the battle, just knowing what it takes. We got guys that can do pretty much everything on the floor. So we got to put it together, I’m looking forward to doing the work.”
Do you consider being here and not winning a championship this year or any year that you’re here a failure or progression? And the second question, what was your reaction to what happened earlier this week at your alma mater, Michigan State (where there was a shooting)?
Durant: I know it’s always, it’s pressure because I’m one of the best players to play the game. So every time I step on the floor, people are going to expect me to do great things and the team I’m on to do great things. But I enjoy getting better as a player every day. I enjoy just waking up and getting to do this. So I don’t ever say anything’s a failure if I’m healthy enough to play the game of basketball. But I know what’s on our backs and we understand that. And we want to do the most, we want to get the most out of this opportunity.”
Ishbia: “Obviously, horrible, horrible thing happened at Michigan State this week. Sending all my love to all my family, my people that are there. I spent a lot of time at Michigan State, talked to coaches, I’ve talked to a lot of people about those events. And it’s hard to talk about it or imagine. I know a lot of people that were up there during that time and sent love to them. And just thinking about those people and hopefully, get through these tough times together as Spartans and as family. Thank you.”
How would you sum up in your time in Brooklyn? (Suns fans boo and make wild noises).
“It was a lot of ups and downs, but I loved the grind. And everybody in Brooklyn loved the grind too, so I built a family over there. They’re always going to be a part of my journey. So we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish as far as winning a championship, just like I told him. But I enjoyed the grind. And everybody there, we tried our hardest every day regardless of what was going on in the media, what was going on with our teammates. Everybody who was in that gym, we grinded. So I love those guys. I get emotional talking about them, because that was a special four years of my career coming off an Achilles (tear suffered with the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals). And they helped me through a lot. I don’t have anything – so yeah, it was terrible how some stuff went down. And at the end of the day, I loved the grind. And we all love the grind there in Brooklyn. I wish them the best going forward, they got a bright future.”
As you look back on that time, I know how much you guys wanted to win a title. Why don’t you think it worked there for you guys together?
“We just didn’t get on the court enough. I think when you see James (Harden), Kyrie (Irving) and myself, it was amazing basketball for 17 games though. But in order for you to win a championship and be a great time, you just need more time on the floor. It’s another story about why we didn’t get on the floor together, but we just didn’t get enough time on the floor. Those are Hall of Fame players that I learned a lot from every day. And I wish them the best as well. It just didn’t work out.”
Dave King: I have a very short, two-part question. First, what is it about Devin Booker that makes all-time greats like Chris Paul and now you want to play with him and come to the Valley and get traded to the Suns? And my second part, is when are you going to take the court?
“I’ll answer the second part first: I don’t know, but hopefully soon. Hopefully, you can feel my enthusiasm to get out there and play. But I’m going to follow the training staff and go on the schedule they got me on. So hopefully soon after the (All-Star) break.
But as far as Devin, he has a pure game. He can score from every place on the floor with efficiency. He’s athletic, but he don’t really show it a lot but he can. Like last game, he had two dunks. It surprised me out of nowhere, even though he has that in his toolbag. But he’s just such a quiet, efficient scorer and he goes about his business on and off the court in such a mature manner. And I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be a part of his journey and see how good he could get from here. And he’s just one of those players I really admire, and people are going to be doing classes on him when he’s done playing. You can learn so much from him, watching his game.”
Do you think your defense still gets under-discussed being in almost two decades in the NBA, and people still talk about your offense. Do you think that still gets under-discussed and how much do you think you’re going to be able to contribute on that end for Monty and his staff?
“I understand why. I mean, I can score the basketball. People like scoring and defense is not the glamorous thing in the game. So yeah, I understand why that might not be discussed as much. But my coaches and my teammates trust in me on that side of the floor. I’m looking forward to adding that to this team. I see they do a lot of switching on some stuff, and they fight over a lot of screens and stuff that I like to do, to protect the rim. And I think I add value to a team with my defense, and like I said earlier, I feel my defense always feeds in to my offense. So when I’m locked in on that end, I can be better on the other side.”
You were 18-2, the Nets were, before your injury. I want to know, what was your reaction to Kyrie’s trade request? Is there any part of you disappointed that you couldn’t have finished what you started?
“Yeah, I was upset that we couldn’t finish. I thought we would have had some good momentum. We were finally building the culture that we always wanted. I felt like every game, we were building our chemistry. But I didn’t know what was going on with Kyrie and his situation with the organization. So I didn’t really focus on that. I only focused on what we were doing on the court. It was a blow to our team. It just took away our identity. He was a huge, huge part to what we do. His game, he’s a Hall-of-Fame player, a great, great player that can do everything on the floor and we relied on that. So without him, we didn’t have clear identity. So that was tough for me to stomach. I love playing for those guys. Throughout the year, I felt like we had dudes that were stepping up and doing stuff that they didn’t do on their previous teams. So I enjoyed everything about it. It was tough to not finish this season, but I just tried to move forward as quickly as I can and try to figure something out for myself. But also, still focus on rehab and trying to get back. It all happened so fast and I’m glad it worked out this way.”
I’m curious on how the evolution of the perspective amongst superstar players in the league about playing in Phoenix has evolved in your time playing in the league?
“It’s definitely evolved. I feel like once I got into the league – I came in in , Phoenix was always one of the top teams in the league. There have only been a few years, actually, where they weren’t one of the top teams. They always had a solid team, somebody always respected. And when you came in here, this was a battle. You knew the crowd was going to be into it from the tip.
“That drew me here. You always keep an eye out on organizations and teams throughout the league throughout your career. And this is one of the teams, one of the cities I always respected. And I’m glad it was able to come full-circle and I’m here now.”