Kevin Durant scores 23 in debut as Suns beat Hornets

Kevin Durant shook off the rust after a nearly two-month layoff, scoring 23 points in his Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday. The Suns beat the Charlotte Hornets 105-91. Devin Booker had 37 points, while Deandre Ayton had 16 points and 16 rebounds.

Full recap and highlights of Kevin Durant's Phoenix Suns debut

Kevin Durant's winding path to the Suns

It seems like it has been ages since Kevin Durant actually played basketball, but his debut in a Phoenix Suns uniform is upon us. He’ll take the floor against the now-depleted Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday in Charlotte, marking his first game in well over a month.

What began with a loud but unfulfilled trade request translated to a quiet yet obvious trade, consummated three weeks ago when Durant’s tumultuous Brooklyn Nets tenure ended. He walked away with plenty of what-ifs and walked into more of the same in Phoenix, albeit under different circumstances.

Durant will join Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton in what could be a last-ditch opportunity to win a championship after the Suns’ playoff run ended in disappointment in the second round last May.

The Suns appeared to be Durant’s main target when he asked out last summer, before his four-year, $194 million extension kicked in. He was disgruntled with the direction of the Nets franchise, as the Nets traded James Harden months before and Kyrie Irving’s future was in doubt.

Not much changed after Durant rescinded his trade demand, even though he and the Nets initially played nice. He returned to his MVP-like form on the floor before his recent MCL injury in early January.

Days into the season, head coach Steve Nash was fired, replaced by Jacque Vaughn. Irving was traded when it was clear he and the Nets weren’t on the same page concerning his future, and that opened the door for Durant to reengage the Nets on moving him. Meanwhile, Phoenix, while far and away the best regular-season team in the 2021-22 season, couldn’t recapture the magic this season — middling in the middle of the West’s playoff picture.

Once new owner Mat Ishbia was cemented, he began pushing for a big move, and Durant was right there for the taking. It took a haul — Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and multiple first-round picks — to secure him, but it reopened a title window that appeared shut beforehand.

Durant, who turned 34 at the start of training camp, is shooting a career-high 56% from the field and a career-high 62% on 2s. He replaces Paul as the piece the Suns will be most reliant upon in the postseason.

Paul, who’ll be 38 in May, notably slowed down in the Suns’ second-round loss to Dallas last year, aiding in a shocking Game 7 collapse at home. Durant’s team last season was swept in the first round to the eventual finalist Boston Celtics.

All involved needed a reset button in a way, and this traded provided one. Durant will be on his fourth team in his storied career, and he has had individual success at every stop.

He was a champion and Finals MVP with the Golden State Warriors but yearned for more after three decorated but sometimes drama-filled years.

Now he has another opportunity to shut up the crowd that believes he needs to validate himself in a different way. Should he help this Suns team through the maze of the Western Conference, he’ll probably do so.