Kevin Durant, who returned from a sprained ankle on Wednesday, knows the Phoenix Suns have a target on their backs, so they need to be at their best every night. He asked the Brooklyn Nets to trade him to Phoenix in February, but has no ill will toward his former team and hated the way his tenure there ended. He said this in an interview with The Athletic's Shams Charania.
On the Suns and his championship window:
I feel pretty good. I know we gotta bring it every night now. We got to target on our back. So it's still somewhat … a little anxious, a little anxiety coming into each game. Just because you want to be at your best, and you know everybody is targeting us. I'm looking forward to the challenge. We all are.
I take it one day at a time. I don't even look at windows. I'm not talking about championships. I'm focused on: How can we be great, how can we maximize every day.
On the Nets:
After Kyrie Irving demanded a trade out of Brooklyn, how did you handle your situation?
Once he asked out, I was just trying to figure out what direction the team is going in. Once I had no understanding of what direction we're going in, I tried to make the best decision for me.
Do you feel vindicated?
Nah. Hell nah. I want the best for that organization. I wanted the best for us every game. I hated it had to go down like that. I wasn't trying to prove the Nets is a s—ty organization. I was trying to prove that the Nets are a great organization, that they care about their players, want the best for their players. Certain s— just didn't work out. I understand that. I'm not here trying to prove that the Nets was wrong, I think they did amazing by me the whole time I was there, not just with the trade. Coming off the Achilles injury, get back into playing — they made sure they were there for me every step of the way. And I appreciate that for life. I feel like we'll be tied as family members for life regardless of how it finished.
Durant was traded on Feb. 9, but has played only four games with his new team. He was sidelined with a sprained MCL when the trade was made, and he sprained his ankle in pregame warmups on March 8. Wednesday's 107-100 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves was his first home game as a member of the Suns, and only six games remain on the schedule: Friday against Denver, Sunday at Oklahoma City, then home games against San Antonio and Denver next week before they close out the regular season by visiting the Lakers and hosting the Clippers. Phoenix is 41-35 and fourth in the West, but the Clippers (41-36) and Warriors (40-37) aren't far back.
All of this means that the Suns don't have much room for error the rest of the way if they want to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It is not ideal that they've played so few games with Durant, but none of their opponents will feel any sympathy for this superteam. He is right that there's a target on Phoenix's collective back, and the team has no choice but to try to establish a rhythm together and win postseason games at the same time.
As for Brooklyn: This is not the first time that Durant has lamented the way the Nets' all-in era ended. Unlike Irving, who perplexingly said Wednesday that he "didn't get a chance" to finish what they'd started, Durant has not taken any shots at the front office since his departure. According to ESPN, Durant didn't demand a trade in February; he privately requested a trade to one specific destination and told the Nets that he'd finish the season with them if they couldn't make it happen.
Brooklyn didn't exactly want to trade one of the best players who has ever lived. As far as superstar breakups go, though, this is about as amicable as it gets.