Goodbye Brooklyn, Hello Suns: Kevin Durant’s NBA Career - Before His Historic Trade
| LAST UPDATE 02/15/2023
Kevin Durant is one of the greatest basketball players - but that doesn't mean it's been an easy road. With his recent and controversial trade to the Phoenix Suns, let's look back at where it all started.
A Basketball Prodigy
Durant has had an extraordinary and award-winning career, which is not even close to being done. The 34-year-old is one of the best to ever play the game, fulfilling what seemed to always be his destiny.
Before there were endorsement deals, All-Star teams, Olympic gold medals, or NBA Championship rings, Kevin Durant was just a kid with a big dream. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his favorite player, Vince Carter. So, let's head back to where it all began and uncover how he came to be the GOAT he is today.
Wanda and Wayne Durant had no idea they would be parents to one of the greatest athletes in the world when their little Kevin was born in September 1988. Durant was raised in Maryland with his three siblings, with his grandma playing a big role in raising him.
Durant had big dreams of playing for his favorite NBA team, the Toronto Raptors. And these dreams didn't seem too far out of his reach. The unusually tall Durant was also blessed with athleticism. He played in the Amateur Athletic Union and was considered a basketball prodigy.
Built Like a Champ
Durant certainly listened to his doctor as a kid and ate his fruits and veggies - or he was just blessed with remarkable genes. When he was in middle school, the Maryland native already stood tall at 6 feet. To compare, the average height of boys at that age is 4 feet 8 inches. Yes, really.
He didn't even stop there, though. Durant kept on growing. When he was going into his senior year of high school, he grew five inches the summer before, placing him at 6 feet and 7 inches. But during his first years in the NBA, he only continued to grow.
Best in Class
In high school, Durant showed just how much promise he already held as a basketball star. He attended three different schools over the four years, spending his senior year at Montrose Christian School. He was considered the second-best high school player, behind Greg Oden.
At the end of his senior year, Durant was chosen as the Most Valuable Player at the 2006 McDonald's All-American Game. But that's not all. The Washington Post named him the All-Met Basketball Player of the Year. It was clear that Durant was bound for success - but before that, he had another stop to go to: college.
Heading to Texas
For obvious reasons, Durant was already recruited when he was still in high school. Many elite college basketball programs, like North Carolina, Kentucky, and Duke, tried to convince the high school senior that they were the program he should decide to play with. (We can't blame them.)
However, he ultimately decided to commit to the University of Texas at Austin. In an interview with The Player's Tribune, Durant said that he "would have got kind of lost" among all the players at UNC. This future Longhorn wanted to stand out from the crowd. And that he did.
It was clear that Texas got a slam dunk with Durant's signing. In his freshmen season, 2006-07, the Maryland native averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds a game. The Longhorns made it all the way to the NCAA Tournament. USC knocked them out in the second round, but that was no damper on Durant's season...
Durant made history as a college freshman. He was the first freshman to win every major award offered in the league - including the Naismith Award and the John R. Wooden Award and was recognized as the national player of the year. He became a legend in just 365 days.
And unfortunately for the Longhorns, it would only be one year. After finishing his freshmen year in Texas, Durant was ready for the 2007 NBA draft. At least Durant gave them a year to remember. Now he was determined to live his dream by playing in the NBA.
The first overall draft pick went to the Portland Trail Blazers, who selected Greg Oden with their pick. Then, the Seattle SuperSonics had the second overall pick. With it, they selected Kevin Durant! The kid who dreamed big was finally going to be an NBA player.
Rookie of the Year
The 19-year-old made his NBA debut against the Denver Nuggets. In his first game, he scored 18 points, had five rebounds, and had three steals. It was clear from his first game as a professional basketball player that Durant was destined for greatness.
At the end of his rookie season, Durant was named Rookie of the Year. It may have been his first year in the league, but he did not let that scare him. The Seattle SuperSonic averaged 20.3 points per game. There was no denying that Durant was a force. However, things were about to get shaken up.
The Seattle SuperSonics were going to go through a major makeover. We're not just talking about a new 'do or new drip. We're talking about moving cities, changing names, and jersey colors. After failing to secure public funding to build a new arena, the owners packed up their things and left. Talk about a dramatic exit.
They went across the country to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They renamed the team to the Thunder and switched their colors to blue, orange, and yellow. Was the newly rebranded Oklahoma City Thunder going to be able to make a storm? Looking at the weather forecast, it was definitely looking stormy...
Hands Up for Westbrook
Russell Westbrook was a lightning strike of a player, hailing from UCLA's basketball program. As the saying goes, where there's lightning, there's thunder. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked Westbrook in the draft. Alongside Durant, these two were about to cause a storm.
In the 2009-10 season, they made it to the playoffs. While they lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers, everyone was talking about this new threat in the league - the Oklahoma City Thunder. Despite not reaching the Finals, Durant had an amazing season, becoming the youngest scoring NBA champion that year.
Most Valuable Player
Durant helped make the Thunder playoff contenders. Along with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, they became a team to fear. They constantly found themselves in the playoffs for the next couple of years. In 2011, they lost at the Western Conference Finals. Then, in 2012, they made it to the NBA Finals.
They ended up losing in the Finals to the Miami Heat. But that didn't damper Durant's mood - he kept pushing through. The following year, he averaged 35.9 points per game and earned himself the title of the NBA Most Valuable Player. Well-played, Kevin.
A Stormy Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder had come so close to winning a title. However, year after year, they were unable to secure the honor. For the 2014-25 season, Durant had to miss much of the season due to a string of injuries that kept him out of the game and in recovery mode.
A healthy and fully recovered Durant returned to the team the following year and was ready to get the title of NBA Champion. The team made it to the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors won the series. Durant shocked fans with his next move.
Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors. Yeah, the ones his team had just lost to in the playoffs. He would now be part of a super team along with NBA legends like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. It was time for Durant to pack his bags and head to the West coast.
In a statement released in The Players' Tribune, Durant explained, "The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player - as that has always steered me in the right direction." Were the years going to be golden?
Many people criticized his move, saying it was the easy way out. Oklahoma City fans felt extremely betrayed by Durant's move to San Francisco. Even Durant acknowledged how "Oklahoma City truly raised me" in his statement and assured, "I will miss Oklahoma City."
His new Golden State teammates welcomed him with open arms. Draymond Green tweeted, "Welcome to THE FAMILY @KDTrey5 let's just do what we are setting out to do!! #blockoutthenoise." Now with four NBA All-Stars on their team, the Golden State Warriors were going to be unstoppable - whether Thunder fans liked it or not.
Durant's move paid off. Big time. The superstar Golden State Warriors made the NBA Finals in 2017 and 2018, taking home the title both times. At last, after years of hard work, Kevin Durant was officially an NBA Champion. Not one-time, but two-time.
But it didn't stop there, either. Durant was awarded the Finals Most Valuable Player Award for both appearances, adding to his already impressive list of accomplishments. The warriors of the golden state, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, were unstoppable. Until they weren't…
A Painful Blow
Durant and the Golden State Warriors were chasing the elusive three-peat Champion title. It was a bumpier road than usual for the Warriors to get there, but they made it to the playoffs. Then, things started to come apart for the team. Durant hit a playoff career-high, scoring 45 points. Things were looking up.
Then, everything went south during the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets. Durant suffered a calf strain, which made him miss nine games. When he returned, he suffered an Achilles tendon injury, and the Golden State Warriors lost to the Toronto Raptors, losing out on their chance for a three-peat.
After three jam-packed seasons and two NBA Championship titles with the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant was getting ready to take a bite out of an apple - the big apple, to be exact. Durant moved to the Brooklyn Nets in a sign-and-trade deal.
Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson said in a statement, "He has already established himself as a champion and one of the best players of all time, and we couldn't be more excited to welcome him into our program in Brooklyn." However, it would be some time before fans could welcome him to his new home.
The Brooklyn Nets were trying to score a super team all of their own. In addition to signing Durant, they also signed Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. The signing was dubbed the "clean sweep" by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski when he announced that the Brooklyn Nets would be signing all three players as free agents.
It was Durant and Irving who pushed for the team to also nab Jordan. Brooklyn fans were beyond hyped. Were they about to have an unbeatable team? Would they go all the way to the finals? It turns out that the road to success was a bit more complicated. And it started with Durant...
The last time he played, he had suffered an Achilles tear against the Toronto Raptors. It left Durant with a lengthy and difficult rehab process. So, instead of being greeted by fans at his new home, Barclays Center, he decided to sit out the entire 2019-2020 season to help with his recovery.
No one can blame the guy if he was in pain, but it must have been a disappointment for fans not to be able to see their superstar team in action. An Achilles tear can take six months to a year to fully recover, and Durant didn't want to take any chances with this injury.
Making an Entrance
After a year-long hiatus, Kevin Durant made his return to the NBA and his debut as a Brooklyn Net. It was December 22, 2020, and he came back in a big way. They were playing against his former team, the Golden State Warriors, and he showed them just how much they were missing.
Durant sunk 22 points, had five rebounds, three assists, and three steals. And just like that, the Brooklyn Nets defeated Durant's former team. Kev's luck seemed to be up, but his streak ran out when he suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss another 23 games.
In January 2021, Brooklyn made another big move. They traded three players, three first-round picks, and four first-round pick swaps for MVP and Durant's former teammate James Harden. The two were going to be back in business together. With Harden on the Nets, there was nothing that could stop them.
They quickly proved just how good they were. They flew past the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, winning the series after five games. They were on fire and could practically taste the NBA Championship title. Except, what would happen next would ruin their chances of winning.
A Disappointing End
Next up, the Brooklyn Nets played against the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. During the series' first game, Harden walked off the court with a hamstring injury. He was ruled out for the remaining games in the series. Their charging offense was now short a key player. But there was still hope with Irving and Durant playing.
They still had a chance. Until Irving was also ruled out for the series after he landed on Giannis Antetokounmpo's foot, injuring the player's ankle. The entire offense fell on Durant's shoulders, but he couldn't lead a winning offense without Harden and Irving. The Bucks came out triumphant, and the Nets went home.
The Covid-19 Curse
What was meant to be the greatest team in the NBA was plagued by a series of unfortunate events. As the Covid-19 pandemic was happening, there was a workplace vaccine mandate put into place by New York. This mandate made Irving ineligible to play because he wasn't vaccinated.
While the team eventually let Irving play part-time, the Nets couldn't catch a break. Shortly after Irving returned, Durant sprained his MCL and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks for his recovery. Then, a few weeks later, Harden was traded off the team to the Philadelphia 76ers. Would this team be able to find a little bit of hope?
They finally did. With only nine games left in the regular season, New York City lifted the workplace vaccine mandate. That meant Irving could return as a full-time player to the team. The Nets were going to have a shot at the title once again. But would they be able to sink it?
Irving and Durant defeated the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers to secure their spot in the playoffs. They faced off against the Boston Celtics once again. Durant and Irving couldn't keep up with the pressure, though. The Celtics knocked the Nets out of the playoffs.
The Secret Search
At the end of the season, most players relax and take a break from their intense schedules. Right when the offseason began, Durant was not playing games anymore. He was ready for a change. "Durant told Marks he wanted to be traded," ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst reported of the Nets general manager.
Durant expressed his wish to be somewhere warm, like the Miami Heat or the Phoenix Suns. "It was a request, not a demand like Irving had made of the Nets," they recalled. "This was to stay a private appeal. Durant didn't want a bidding war and days of being the target of intense speculation and online obsession." Would they find a suitable trade?
As the offseason was coming to a close and the start of training camp was creeping closer, the Nets could not find a deal that would work. "Nobody wants to give up Kevin Durant," Nets general manager Sean Marks told ESPN. "There's so many things that make him special. They don't come around very often."
So, Durant and the Nets issued a joint statement - that they were going to continue working together. Durant was understandably bummed, but Nets fans had another glimmer of hope. Maybe they would finally be able to have a team that would clinch the biggest prize in the league, the NBA Championship title. Was this season finally going to be the year?
Bye, Bye Irving
This was not the type of series that the Brooklyn Nets were hoping to play in. But unluckily, they found themselves in another string of unfortunate events. Star player Kyrie Irving found himself and the Nets in the spotlight, but not the kind of spotlight anyone wants to be in.
Irving posted a link to a film that was reported to endorse antisemitic ideas. The post gained national attention. Eventually, Kyrie was suspended and ended up missing 8 games. After his return, the team was on fire until Durant sprained his MCL again. Irving ended up being traded to the Dallas Mavericks - but what about Durant's fate?
Here Comes the Sun
"It was Phoenix. It was always Phoenix," Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports wrote. Sure enough, on February 9, 2023, it was announced that the Phoenix Suns acquired KD in a four-team trade with the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers. A year after initially requesting a trade, Durant was finally getting what he wanted.
What should have been three magical seasons with the best of the best turned into an era marked by scandal and injury. The Brooklyn Nets came so close to nabbing the title but were never able to secure it. But by the 2024-25 season, Durant will be one of the highest-paid players in the NBA with a salary of $49.9 million, as several outlets reported.
Fans were stunned by the news. Many shared photos of their jerseys with Durant's name on them. ESPN's Linda Cohn tweeted, "Why would anyone spend their hard-earned money on an NBA jersey nowadays with this kind of player movement. #KevinDurant." Even his former teammate had some words. "Glad that he got out of there," Irving shaded.
NBA player CJ McCollum tweeted, "Can't even go to sleep early anymore this time of the year." Meanwhile, ESPN writer Zach Lowe said that Durant going to the Suns "is maybe the biggest trade in the history of the NBA." There is one person who is extremely excited, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. She tweeted, "Expensive, but worth it."
Fans may be divided on how they feel about the record-making trade, but it doesn't change the fact that it is going to shake up the league in a huge way. Will Kevin Durant's run in the sun lead to another championship title? Or will he be left in the desert dust?
Only time will tell if Zach Lowe will be right that this is the biggest trade in the history of the NBA... or if it will end up like his run at the Brooklyn Nets, disappointing and unsuccessful. What's next for Durant? We can't wait to watch it play out in real-time...