Are Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns looking at an open window or a pane of glass?
The delight emanating from the Phoenix makes sense. Kevin Durant is here, looking cool and at home, and the Suns are undoubtedly a team with as much talent as any other in the NBA. He keeps track of what some of us are getting ahead of ourselves with thoughts of the dominion of the Sun.
But there must also be a rattling and relentless sense of urgency here, based on something Phoenix needs to pay attention to. The history of the NBA is replete with windows that seemed so wide and confident before they suddenly slammed shut.
Yes, Duran just played his first game for the Suns on Wednesday. But he and his teammates need to spend the rest of this season like 2023 is their only chance for greatness.
Durant knows how fleeting certain things and long-term plans can be in this league. The Brooklyn Nets team, which was less than two months behind the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the Eastern Conference (and it was no coincidence that Durant and Kyrie Irving were on the team), is now burned in a trash can.
Chris Paul will turn 38 before the conference finals. Last summer, DeAndre Ayton wanted to be somewhere else and stayed because Phoenix left him no choice. Earlier this season, Devin Booker had to play 27 games due to injury. And KD has just returned from a seven week absence due to an injury.
In this league, yeah, there’s no better time than now. But it’s also true that sometimes a gift is all you get.
And the gift for Phoenix looks really good. Some of the realities of this year’s Western Conference offer the Suns an opening as well as a warning. The Los Angeles Lakers thought they had cracked the code twice to bring the franchise back to some postseason glory — first at the start of last season when they brought in Russell Westbrook, and then at last month’s trade deadline when they got rid of it. Russell Westbrook.
But LeBron James is hurt, LA is mediocre at best, and any threat he could create has dissipated. The windows are closing.
The Clippers, who acquired Westbrook after he was bought by the Utah Jazz last month, also thought they could compete. But we haven’t seen much from them to indicate that this is likely.
The Grizzlies and Nuggets may be real, but Memphis is young and alarm reports Ja Morant’s entourage won’t help. In Denver, injuries in recent seasons have sabotaged playoff success. And while the Warriors are looking to bring Steph Curry back for Sunday’s game against the Lakers, they’ve been inconsistent throughout the season.
Kings just keep winning, but few of them are at the final table in the West. And the Mavericks despite what happened Thursday Night vs. 66ers, still counting on Kyrie Irving. All this suggests that the West can be defeated.
History is also a conduit for this idea of not taking things for granted.
A decade ago, Durant’s former Thunder team seemed poised for further greatness even after they lost to LeBron and the Heat in five games in the 2012 NBA Finals. They certainly didn’t see how the Warriors, with 23 wins that season, turned into one of the greatest dynasties of all time—one that, just in case, would lure Durant away.
The Heat believed they were ready for long-term dominance, until the summer of 2014, when it dawned on them that LeBron was returning to Cleveland.
Don’t forget the 2015 Clippers in those serene Lob City days. At one point, Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were leading the Rockets 3-1 and looking for a place in the Conference Finals. They are next, they have been made. Looking back, their window closed before they even got close to walking through it.
The Raptors won the championship back in 2019 and then, less than a month later, they saw Kawhi Leonard leave.
Time and time again, in NBA history, teams that saw the glory that should have been theirs, only to have the ground suddenly vanish from under their feet.
This Suns team, despite taking time to stick together and endure tougher tests than the battered and depleted Hornets, has all the hallmarks of an NBA title contender. right now.
But after that, Phoenix’s next step is to realize that these things can change in the blink of an eye. Setbacks and injuries come crashing down. Locker rooms sometimes sour. Some players get old, others decide they want to be somewhere else. Sometimes a breakthrough comes from somewhere else and refocuses the NBA’s power structure somewhere unexpected, like the San Francisco Bay Area or Milwaukee.
Kevin Durant may have joined this talented Suns team at the end of this season, and when he did, the window opened wide. How long this will last is anyone’s guess, but if recent NBA history has taught us anything, it’s that windows like this rarely stay open for long.