Kevin Durant returns to Brooklyn: 'Pointless' to ponder what-ifs

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Thursday, February 1, 2024

NEW YORK -- Kevin Durant made his return to Barclays Center, his home for the better part of four seasons, on Wednesday night and said he hasn't thought about how his tenure with the Brooklyn Nets could have played out differently and that he, Kyrie Irving and James Harden simply "didn't have enough time together."

"No," Durant said matter-of-factly after posting 33 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds in thePhoenix Suns'136-120 win over Brooklyn. "I mean, that's just a pointless exercise, in my opinion, to think about what could have been.

"What happened. That's what I thought about: what actually happened. The reality of it."

"We didn't have enough time together. That's just it," he continued. "Guys wanted to go their separate ways. We tried our hardest to, you know, salvage everything and everything together. We had three or four different teams [from] when I signed here until when I left. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed coming to work, playing for, being a part of this community and playing, representing Brooklyn; regardless of what went on, what was said or how I felt, I still came to work."

In so many ways, Durant's return was a reminder of what could have been.

Even after a ton of injuries, Wednesday's outing marked the 17th game Durant has played alongside Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, his Suns co-stars, this season. Across the entirety of their time together in Brooklyn, Durant, Irving and Harden played a total of 16 games together. They won one playoff series (although Durant was a toe on the 3-point line at Barclays against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals away from winning a second one) before first Harden then Irving and ultimately Durant himself asked to be traded away from the Nets.

But when asked about how he felt about that stop of his career as compared to his first two -- the Oklahoma City Thunder, with whom he reached one NBA Finals and the Western Conference finals three other times; and the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won two titles and reached the Finals a third time in three seasons -- he pushed back on the idea that his time with the Nets was a failure in any way.

"I like to look at success as like the individuals, what you do as an individual and how you can bring that as a team, as an individual," Durant said. "I mean, I was an All-Star every year. I was the leading vote-getter every year in All-Star games. Sold a lot of jerseys. [Averaged] 50-40-90, averaged 30, [made] All-NBA. ... I mean, was that successful? You know what I mean?"

"But team success is a different thing," he explained. "But you'd like to put the team, how the team does, you'd like to put that on one of the best players and call it a failure. But you look at the work, if you want to talk about me individually, you can just look at the work that I put in here. I think I've grown as a player.

"I'm on my way to mastering the game. I think coming here helped me, pushed me far closer to that. So that's what I try to take from my time here."

The Nets played a tribute video before Durant was introduced to start the game -- even though he had asked on social media earlier this week for there not to be one.

He then was greeted by a mix of cheers and boos -- slightly more cheers -- before he was given the introduction that was used for his three-plus seasons in Brooklyn.

And while Durant said it "is what it is" when it came to the tribute, he went out of his way to say how much he enjoyed his time in Brooklyn and that he appreciated the way the organization treated him.

"That wasn't going to stop me from just doing my job regardless," Durant said of the video.

"But there's class people here. They appreciate everybody who donned the jersey. I don't care if it's for a 10-day, and that shows a great organization. You can appreciate everybody who stepped foot and put their blood, sweat and tears into your organization. So, I respect that."

What's impossible not to respect is Durant's talent, which was on full display Wednesday night. One of the greatest pure scorers the sport has ever seen, Durant finished the game 10-for-16 from the floor and 11-for-12 from the free throw line, getting wherever he wanted from start to finish while resigning the Nets to a 13th loss in their past 18 games, dating back to last month's controversial tilt against the Bucks that saw Brooklyn get fined $100,000 for violating the league's player participation policy.

For Durant, the Nets are in the past. What is ahead is what both he and the Suns hope is a deep playoff run this spring. And, he said, he is optimistic about what this group can accomplish after enduring a sluggish start amid injuries to each of their three stars.

"We were just floating from two to three games under .500 and .500 for most of the year," Durant said. "[Now] we look up, we're 28-20 with a good opportunity to be 10 games over .500 with our next two games on the road. So, we're going home at the 50-game mark, hopefully we can be 30-20, and I like where we are. It's a grind throughout the whole season, especially with the new group, new coaching staff, new team, guys in and out the lineup. You got to build some continuity, and I think we're on our way to that."

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