As it stands, Kevin Durant will barely be remembered for how he played basketball. It’s a shame, because he’s been one of the best to ever do it. Long, smooth but also ferocious; infinite in his craft, liquid in his understanding of the game, insanely productive for close to two decades, way underrated on defense. He is also, however, an intransigent soul, and because he is so good—in the ways just described, among others—he’s been enabled to ride the lightning inside himself, and the force of it has directed him through a strange career playing for four different franchises, the last two of which are wondering what the hell just happened to them.

It’s all been a lot more picaresque than triumphant. The way he’s toured the league has shown us top-heavy superteams, forged in tribute to his hoopers-only hardwood ideology, while lacking well-considered role player units. It’s given us all the soap opera NBA Twitter tabloid stories we could ever want, too—his friend-mixing has produced various results, with the worst of the collaborations occurring between James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Because of this, his career, for many, has been less about his skills and more a cause for referendum on modern league politics, and on what happens when a player attempts to fully tell their own story, but does a worse job at it than LeBron James has.

After his universally beloved coming-of-age years with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant's narrative has been a mixed odyssey. With the Golden State Warriors, he made his team too powerful by joining it; so, most thought, the rubric had been exploded, and he couldn’t get good grades for his time there—or any marks, really. Two championships and two Finals MVPs were met with shrugging amnesia. So he went to the Brooklyn Nets to try proving his supremacy there, with the Harden-Irving problem turning into a Ben Simmons-Irving problem, which led to both him and Kyrie forcing their way out and leaving the team as routeless as it was when they seized it.

The Phoenix Suns have been a different issue, yet similar. Durant convinced Brooklyn to trade him there, specifically, seemingly believing that the only thing wrong with his Nets teams was that their hoopers weren’t true enough. So a new/familiar path was formed with Devin Booker and Bradley Beal beside him. The trade capital spent to compile this trio left them small and unathletic in the front court, and thin on the bench. The three of them would have to ball and bucket-get their way out of a prison that they made for themselves.

An intriguing setup, but the action part of the plot didn’t deliver any real drama. Last week the Suns were clinically dispatched by the much larger and more well-rounded Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs, with Durant and Co. providing less resistance than they did a launching pad for Anthony Edwards’ star. Should Durant’s story fail to develop a compelling latter-days chapter, it could very well be the torch-passing moment that becomes known as the metaphoric end of his saga.

Edwards, in Minnesota, has what Durant has escaped ever since winning those trophies with the Warriors: structure, culture, all the skill sets a roster needs to succeed. KD’s 2019-2024 project has been to challenge this form of things. To prove that there is a basketball less bureaucratic, quantified, and organized; purer, instead—more organic and artistic, more raw and better off for it. This may be true in a larger sense, but in the NBA, it isn’t that way. Here is where it surely helps to have the eggheads on your side, advising you to combine yourself with less inspiring but more complementary men; to eschew the aesthetics and vibes that rile you up for something more yeoman and computed.

That, really, is how you win. But Durant has said—as was spoken in the famous movie, released the same year that he left the Warriors—that “this is how I win.” Just like the protagonist in that tragedy, he hasn’t. Only twice, in these exploratory years, has he even reached the second round of the playoffs. His teams are a combined 13-18 in the postseason over this period. But with the Nets and Suns, he has remained personally excellent, averaging 28 points per game with 53/41/89 shooting splits—plus seven rebounds and six assists per game. 

He has wowed, too: his outlandishly good 2021 second-round performance against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks was a touchstone in modern NBA mythology. Watch the highlights, and wonder: has anyone ever played so well before, or since? He would probably like us to think about this when we remember him, and not the fact that his recent professional trajectory has resembled a bloated bachelor party; a series of bro pacts and dubious schemes, wrought in dereliction of obviously more solid plans. It is not time to choose either version of his chronicle, or any hybrid of them, though. It is time to see what’s next for him, and hope that it’s a set of circumstances that allows us to put aside the meta, and live with him on the court again.