Sports

PHOENIX — The energy that Kevin Durant‘s arrival has brought to the Suns organization is palpable. As Durant, who was traded from the Brooklyn Nets last week in a blockbuster deal, continues to work out and get to know his new teammates, the respect that he has earned within the locker room is already evident.

“You can’t put it into words, man,” Suns guard Devin Booker said after Tuesday’s shootaround. “It’s just all feeling. Looking forward to post-All-Star break when we actually get the chance to compete with each other. I’ve never gotten to do that besides the Olympics with Kev, so it’s exciting times around here.”

Durant, 34, who remains out because of an MCL injury in his right knee Jan. 8, appears to be getting closer to a return every day. He spent time after the shootaround going through a variety of shooting drills and seemed to be moving as usual. Coach Monty Williams said that while Durant still hasn’t gone through 5-on-5 or even 3-on-3 drills or participated in any scrimmages, he “looks great.”

“He’s in great shape, he’s always in really good shape,” Williams said. “And he’s going game speed like he always does, but he hasn’t checked the boxes as far as playing in certain competition environments like 3-on-3, 5-on-5, to move towards the floor and get ready to play. He hasn’t done that yet.”

Booker, who was a teammate of Durant’s on Team USA when the group won a gold medal during the Tokyo Games in 2021, noted Durant’s work ethic and ability in “bringing the best out of everybody around him.”

After years of struggling to find a winning routine before a Finals run two seasons ago, Booker takes pride in the fact that Durant pushed to come to the Suns.

“We built something that the league has picked up on,” Booker said. “We were probably the laughingstock of the NBA about four or five years ago, and just turning that around to something serious to championship contenders is a quick turnaround for us, so we take a lot of pride in what we’ve built here. For us to be a destination that Kev wanted to come to is a big sign of that, to show respect of what we’ve done so far. We still have more to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Booker is confident that the Suns, who were two wins from becoming NBA champions two seasons ago in the 2021 Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, have all the pieces in place to get over the hump now.

“100 percent,” Booker said. “We kind of had the same approach with the team before the trade. Once you get a taste of Finals experience and having that under your belt, that’s all that you want. We have one goal; we know it’s not going to be easy to get there, but we feel we have the talent, we have the mindset and everything it takes right here in this gym.”

Booker, the longtime face of the Phoenix franchise, also brushed off the idea that there will be a big adjustment to weave Durant into the team’s hierarchy.

“We don’t have no hierarchy,” Booker said. “That’s the thing about it. You have Chris Paul, one of the greatest leaders of all time. You have coach Monty, you have [general manager] James Jones. We have guys that are all on the same plan — I think we all have different type of leading styles, which is the great thing about leadership is it comes in many different forms. And I think all of our games, and our mindsets, complement each other very well.”

Booker said he has enjoyed seeing the example Durant set for his teammates on Team USA and has enjoyed being around him in the couple of days since the deal became official.

“It’s just something that you got to be around,” Booker said. “To feel when you’re around greatness, when you’re around one of the best to ever do it. It’s just a different look, a different feel — but I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Booker said he has also heard from a few peers across the league in the wake of the trade.

“People reach out and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s what y’all are on?'” Booker said with a smile. “Just trying to get it done, man. Just trying to get it done.”

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