What should have been a memorable Wednesday night for the Phoenix Suns and their fanbase quickly became unforgettable for the worst possible reason. Coming off his Suns debut on the team’s recent road trip, Kevin Durant was excited to make his home debut at the Footprint Center.
So of course one of the flukiest, freakiest, most Arizona sports injuries of all time struck during his pregame workout routine.
Driving baseline for a run-of-the-mill dunk, Durant rolled his left ankle. He stayed down for a few seconds, got back up, and finished the last 10 or so minutes or his routine. And just 18 minutes before the game’s scheduled start time, he was ruled out against the Oklahoma City Thunder due to left ankle soreness.
“It’s happened to me before in the summer,” Devin Booker said of that type of injury. “Especially Kev, he goes full speed in every workout that he does. So things like that can happen. I thought he slipped at first, but obviously seeing the video, he turned it.”
Kevin Durant pregame before #Suns home debut.
Got fans chants.
Got camera filming.
Got to keep that floor right. pic.twitter.com/uqSMmevqz4
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) March 9, 2023
Here’s video of Kevin Durant slipping on the floor pregame.
He stayed down for a few seconds but then got up and finished his on-court work. pic.twitter.com/DwTrNc6LIr
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) March 9, 2023
Coach Monty Williams didn’t find out about Durant’s injury until right before their pregame team meeting. For Booker, it was even more last-minute.
“Right before we ran out, I seen him still sitting on the table,” Booker said. “It is what it is. Unfortunate event, but nothing serious, so we’ll get him back right.”
The night wasn’t a complete disaster; the Suns rolled to a 132-101 win over the shorthanded Thunder and made it abundantly clear there would be no emotional letdown, both in their play and their upbeat responses after the game.
“He’s out there working his tail off getting ready for the game, and he twists his ankle,” Williams said. “You can’t get frustrated about that. It’s life, you know what I’m saying?”
“Once we found out he wasn’t playing, not anything against him, but we wasn’t tripping,” Chris Paul added. “We got a lot of guys in our locker room that are more than capable, and we knew to just hoop.”
That’s not to paint the Suns as callous or oblivious to the gravity of this setback. In a season that’s been riddled with injuries, this latest one stings more than usual — especially at such an anticipated moment for Durant, who was finally making his home debut after looking terrific in his first three appearances on the road.
Why can’t we have nice things? pic.twitter.com/x3wwYUx8Eu
— PHNX Suns (@PHNX_Suns) March 9, 2023
“I feel bad for him because he feels bad,” Williams said. “I saw his face. And I’ve been around him so many times, I know what he’s feeling, and I don’t want him feeling that way at all.”
“When you’ve been around for a while, you realize some people like to play, some people love to play,” Paul added. “Kev is one of the people that just loves to hoop, and obviously knowing that this was gonna be his first home game, we was all excited.”
This freak injury took the wind out of everyone’s sails for the night, and depending on the severity of his ankle sprain, for the next few weeks as well.
There’s obviously room for optimism before leaning fully into doom and gloom. Despite Durant only having played three times for Phoenix since the trade, they’ve won four straight games and 16 of their last 21 to climb all the way up to fourth in the Western Conference standings.
The Suns are only two games behind the 3-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and the 2-seeded Sacramento Kings, with two head-to-heads remaining against Sacramento. Booker is more than capable of carrying Phoenix in the interim, given that he’s rounded into form over the past week, averaging 38 points per game over his last four contests.
(Assuming he's done for the night) Devin Booker's last 4 games:
+82 in 137 mins
4-0 record pic.twitter.com/jWgbvI4m6m
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) March 9, 2023
Having Durant to elevate the offense obviously played a role in that, but KD’s absence on Wednesday didn’t stop Booker from pouring in 44 points on 17-of-23 shooting in just 28 minutes to give the home crowd something to cheer about. But even he admitted it was more of a consolation prize compared to what everyone expected going into the night.
“The city’s been waiting on this, it’s a big day,” Booker acknowledged. “We’ll reschedule the party. I’m sure they’ll be back. People that missed out on tonight, I tried to give ’em a little something to make it better, but we’re still anticipating his debut here.”
The question now is when that might be, especially after he reportedly was wearing a boot on the injured foot.
After the game, Williams said the Suns didn’t have an official update on the injury, other than updating it from “ankle soreness” to an “ankle sprain.” Considering Phoenix’s general approach to injuries and KD’s importance to the team’s championship aspirations, they’ll likely exercise caution with his return to play.
“I think every team in the NBA is cautious just because there’s a care for the guys that are trying to win games and protect their livelihoods,” Williams explained. “So that’s always at the highest place on the list. This will be no different. We just have to wait and see how he responds to treatment, and we’ll probably get some more imaging just to make sure everybody’s on the same page.”
The Suns won’t practice on Thursday, which means the team’s first official update on the severity of Durant’s injury likely won’t come until Friday. In the immediate aftermath, Booker said KD is handling it well.
“Control what we can control,” he said. “The situation happened, he’s in good spirit. That’s all that matters to me, so the rehab process starts now.”
Ankle sprains are typically either classified as Grade 1 or Grade 2, which come with varying recovery timelines:
Well that looks like an Inversion ankle sprain for KD. Timeline to return is dependent on severity
—Grade I: 1-2 weeks
—Grade II: 3-6 weeks pic.twitter.com/Pbe9x1ci7r
— Dr. Evan Jeffries, DPT (@GameInjuryDoc) March 9, 2023
While everyone likes to play doctor on Twitter, everything feels speculative until the team releases an official update.
On the bright side, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst wrote that Phoenix is “hopeful Durant avoided a serious sprain, but he is scheduled for an MRI on Thursday to determine the severity of the injury.” Windhorst has a respectable track record when it comes to Suns sources.
AZ Central’s Greg Moore, on the other hand, wrote there’s “concern within the organization that Durant has a Grade 2 sprain, which could keep him out for between four and six weeks.” Whether that’s a realistic fear the organization has based on initial test results or simply acknowledging what everyone fears on a fundamental level in situations like this is unclear.
On Thursday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Durant is expected to be re-evaluated in two weeks. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added he is expected to miss 2-3 weeks, which makes sense, given that he would likely not be ready to return to game action immediately after the two-week re-evaluation period.
The Suns, however, set the re-evaluation period at three weeks in their official press release:
Suns’ official press release says Kevin Durant will be re-evaluated in 3 weeks pic.twitter.com/rfyzzvWUfC
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) March 10, 2023
In any case, even as the Suns continually adopt a “next man up” mentality, they still need time to jell before the playoffs.
“Obviously Kev’s a huge part of our team, you know what I mean?” Paul said. “And any time he’s not out there or other guys [are] in our rotation, we’re gonna make do, but in order to really see what it looks like consistently, we gotta try to get our guys.”
With that being said, the Suns aren’t panicking or overreacting either. When asked whether he was concerned about having sufficient time to build the right chemistry, Paul responded with a simple answer: “Nope. No sir.”
Losing Kevin Durant for 2-3 weeks just before the start of the playoffs makes the Suns’ title aspirations even more difficult to reach. As smooth as the offense has looked in plugging Durant in, and as much as he helps the defense, this means there will be less time for getting valuable reps together on both ends. He’ll only have a handful of games to ramp up before the regular season ends and the postseason begins.
But the good news is this injury is not season-ending, and as long as Durant’s good to go for the playoffs, the Suns are nowhere near being out of the running.
“Our group has adapted to a number of things all year long, from the summer until now, and this is no different,” Williams said. “So we’ll do our best to get him healthy and get him back out there on the floor.”