With over four years having past since his departure from the franchise, Kevin Durant will finally return to a crowd-packed Chase Center for the Phoenix Suns regular season opener against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
The Durant return is just one layer to what should be a tantalizing matchup, with some speculation on the sort of reception the 35-year-old will receive from Warrior fans.
Kevin Durant should be celebrated on Tuesday night, with the two-time Finals MVP also right to request immortality at the Golden State Warriors.
Following three success-laden seasons with Golden State, Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2019 offseason. While there still may be some angst among Warrior fans for how his final season panned out, it shouldn’t taint the greatness he helped cultivate during his tenure.
Having lost the 2016 NBA Finals to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Durant’s arrival helped push the Warriors back to the top with championships in 2017 and 2018. He was the best player in both Finals’ series, including some incredibly clutch shot-making late in games, and was ultimately and deservedly rewarded with back-to-back Finals MVP’s.
Many fans would reflect that Durant’s departure appeared imminent from early in the following season, particularly after a public on-court spat with Draymond Green during a game against the LA Clippers in November 2018.
Despite his impending free agency, Durant could never be accused of quitting on the Warriors as player and franchise surged towards a third-straight championship. Even when his season, and by extension the Warriors chances, were thrown into jeopardy with a calf injury in the second-round of the playoffs, he pushed hard to make a return.
He did come back for Game 5 of the 2019 Finals, only to go down with a devastating torn achilles after just 12 minutes. That commitment shouldn’t be forgotten in Durant’s Warrior career, particularly given his 11 points on 3-5 shooting helped Golden State extend the series to a Game 6.
Even after his wish to leave the franchise, Durant was still aiding the Warriors in a way. Both he and the Nets agreed to orchestrate a sign-and-trade that saw Golden State receive D’Angelo Russell rather than lose Durant and his salary slot for nothing. Fast-forward to now and the remnants are still being significantly felt, with Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga to play key roles in the season opener after being acquired in exchange for Russell.
The sum of the parts should lead to Durant being immortalized in franchise history. It’s something he clearly feels strong about, evident in a recent interview with Andscape’s Marc J. Spears.
"“Look at the résumé. That would warrant me to get a jersey retirement, right? Do I want to be honored by a franchise I put work in for? Of course, I would love that. I had some great moments there. I built some solid relationships there. Yeah, man. Hell yeah, that would be sweet. I love that organization, man”, Durant exclaimed."
The Warriors have four Finals MVP’s in franchise history. Rick Barry’s No. 24 has been retired, with Andre Iguodala’s No. 9 and Stephen Curry’s No. 30 sure to follow. Given the select nature of the Finals MVP group, Durant deserves to have his No. 35 join them in the rafters some day.
For now on Tuesday, let’s celebrate what Kevin Durant brought to the Warriors and appreciate his greatness as a basketball player. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, even if the final hope is that Golden State send their former star away with an L to start the season.