When the Phoenix Suns opted to execute their monster blockbuster deal at the 2023 NBA trade deadline for megastar Kevin Durant, the consensus opinion was that they’re now in a full-on title-or-bust mode. Stacked with a starting lineup consisting of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Durant, it should come as no surprise that Monty Williams’ club is considered to be a top contender to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy come year’s end.
And yet, now one game into the postseason, Phoenix finds itself down 1-0 in their best-of-seven quarterfinals series against the Los Angeles Clippers.
While there’s still plenty of time for the Suns to get back into their first-round matchup, the pressure is certainly on for this team to find its stride and make a deep run this postseason.
Though it is a widespread belief that Chris Paul has the most at stake in Phoenix’s presumed title push this season from a legacy perspective, there’s a rather reasonable argument to be made that his new superstar teammate may have more on the line.
With this in mind, here are 2 reasons why Kevin Durant might be the Suns player with the most to prove during the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
2. A past-prime championship won’t move the needle for Chris Paul
Chris Paul is without question one of the best point guards the game of basketball has ever seen.
Throughout his 18-year NBA career, the 37-year-old has achieved an envious amount of accomplishments, ranging from 12 All-Star selections and five NBA assist-leader crowns to, simply, his phenomenal career averages of 17.9 points, 9.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.1 steals.
The one mark many hold against Paul regarding his professional tenure, however, is the fact that he has never guided any of his teams to an NBA Championship.
The strongest chance he seemingly had at claiming that highly coveted title came in 2018 during his first season with the Houston Rockets while the lone time he made an NBA Finals appearance was during his first year in Phoenix.
Unfortunately for him, both of these seasons saw the Point God come away ringless.
Now in the twilight years of his career, it appears that this 2022-23 iteration of the Suns are hoping to get to their second championship round in three seasons though, whatever the outcome turns out to be, it’s hard to believe that a past-prime title would have any major impact on his placement among the game’s all-time greats.
No longer the franchise cornerstone he once was, at this point, should he win a championship it will likely come while serving as a tertiary option within the team’s scheme or, perhaps, as a glorified game manager.
From Gary Payton to, most recently, Dwight Howard, legendary players who have gone on to win their first titles beyond their prime have not seen their legacy stock rise considerably, if at all as a result.
With this in mind, should Chris Paul end up winning title number one this season, just or not, it will almost certainly have no impact on his all-time status.
However, should the Suns fail to win it all, the vast majority of fans and pundits would just go on to chalk it up as being an ordinary playoff run for the sure-fire Hall of Famer.
1. Quest to Prove Kevin Durant can win without the dynastic Warriors
The narrative that Kevin Durant isn’t capable of winning without an all-time superteam like the one he was a part of during his three-year tenure with the Golden State Warriors (2016-2019) seems to be extremely unfair. After all, the 16-year veteran has accomplished things the vast majority of players that came before him and that will come after could never even dream of.
That said, technically there’s no evidence available that would prove such a talking point wrong.
Before joining the Warriors, he endured nine seasons of falling short of an NBA title with the Seattle Supersonics/ Oklahoma City Thunder. During the years he spent with the Brooklyn Nets after his departure from Golden State, he experienced the same shortcomings.
The fact of the matter is, the only championships he’s captured have come when suiting up alongside an in-his-prime, top-75 player of all-time in Stephen Curry on a team that, without him, already managed to claim a title and won a record 73 games the season before his arrival.
Despite his individual accomplishments, his inability to win an NBA Finals without a historic supporting cast up to this point has given his legacy potential a bit of a ceiling.
However, should he be able to accomplish such a feat in Phoenix with this still talented, albeit far inferior roster in comparison, there’s no doubt that the forward’s all-time status would jump from being considered a top-15 player to a top-10 lock.
With 13 All-Star nods, four scoring crowns, and career averages of 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks on 49.9% shooting from the field, Kevin Durant has already established himself as arguably the greatest scorer and easily one of the greatest all-around players of all time.
Add an NBA title earned without Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and an insanely-deep bench by his side, and it’s all but guaranteed his rank among the game’s greatest will rise.
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