Kevin Durant has yet to play in front of his new-home Phoenix fans, and now he might not get that chance until the playoffs as news broke on Thursday that Durant could miss the remainder of the regular season after spraining his ankle during pre-game warmups Wednesday night.
This is a buzzkill, to say the least. And under normal circumstances, it would be a major concern for the Suns, now having to assimilate a superstar into the delicate alchemy of an NBA offense under the fire of playoff competition.
But Durant is unique in this way. We've often spoke of him as the definition of a plug-and-play star. He fits anywhere, with anyone, because he doesn't require a certain amount of shots from certain spots to be his best self. He's always his best self. And this is so without detracting from anyone else being their best self.
He knows when to attack. When to let the game come to him. He knows how to play with Devin Booker because he's played with Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry. Never passive, he knows when to hang back while someone else cooks. Never over-aggressive, he knows when to go one on one.
In between those two modes, Durant flows in and out of a seamless, historically efficient jumper that somehow never, even after long layoffs, abandons him. Consider that in his first game with a new team, after an almost seven-week injury absence, Durant made 10 of 15 shots. In three games with the Suns, he's shooting 69 percent from the field, including 54 percent from 3.
In 2019, after a month off nursing the calf injury that wound up precipitating his torn Achilles, a stint that forced him to miss the full second and third round of the playoffs, he walked right back into the fire of an NBA Finals potential elimination game and promptly drilled his first three 3-pointers.
In 2020, after another seven-week absence, he came back to shoot 5 for 5 in his first game and 65 percent from the field, including 61 percent from 3, over his first three weeks back on the court.
You wonder if Durant is going to be able to flip the switch for the start of the postseason after yet another potential four-week layoff? Don't worry about it. The man's switch never turns off in the first place.
The Suns are counting on this. They're pointing to the 73 points that Durant and Booker combined to score in just their third game together, when they looked like they'd been playing off one another all their lives, and telling themselves they'll pick right back up from that spot, even under the pressure of the playoffs.
Chances are, they're right. Durant is not only that great, but that versatile. Throw in the experience of a Chris Paul and the similarly adaptable talents of Booker, and the Suns are about as equipped to hit their peak on the fly, without rehearsal, as any newly formed team possibly could be.
Which is good, because they're likely to be tested right out of the gate. If the playoffs were to start today, the Suns would be playing the defending-champion Warriors, who are getting healthy themselves, in the first round. If it's not the Warriors, it could be the Luka/Kyrie Mavericks or the Kawhi/PG Clippers. Even Minnesota would present a formidable challenge.
However the matchups shake out, Phoenix won't have a runway to get up to speed. They'll need to take off immediately. Having Durant makes that prospect a lot less daunting.