Kevin Durant scored 23 in his debut as the Suns beat the 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 from Kevin Durant’s Phoenix Suns debut

Kevin Durant’s winding road to the Suns

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

What began as a loud but unfulfilled trade request translated into a quiet but obvious trade, completed three weeks ago when Durant’s tumultuous Brooklyn Nets tenure came to an end. He walked away with a lot 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 one last opportunity to win a championship after the Suns’ playoff run ended in second-round disappointment last May.

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

Not much changed after Durant withdrew his trade demand, although he and the Nets initially played well. 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 regarding his future, and that opened the door for Durant to re-engage the Nets to move him. Meanwhile, Phoenix, while by far the best regular-season team in 2021-22, couldn’t recapture the magic this season — 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 there to take. It took a move — Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and several first-round picks — to secure him, but it reopened a title window that appeared to be closed 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 depend on the most in the postseason.

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

Everyone involved needed a reset button of some sort, and this act provided one. Durant will be on his fourth team of his storied career, and he has had individual success at each 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 a new opportunity to shut up the crowd who think he needs to validate himself in a different way. Should he help this Suns team through the maze of the Western Conference, he likely will.

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