Late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning, the Phoenix Suns shocked the NBA world by trading for 12-time all-star Kevin Durant. Durant joins Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and DeAndre Ayton and immediately makes Phoenix a real threat to win the Western Conference this spring. Well, maybe not immediately, considering he's still recovering from an MCL sprain that's kept him out since January 8th, but hopefully soon. But the bigger point here is that the Suns' Kevin Durant trade has rocked the NBA landscape.
Phoenix gave up a lot to get Durant, sending Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder, plus four first-round draft picks and the right to swap another future first-round pick to the Nets. The Suns also acquired veteran scoring forward, and former Phoenix Sun, T.J. Warren in the deal.
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For Brooklyn, it's the end of a brief and disappointing superstar era. When Durant and Kyrie Irving decided to sign with the Nets in the summer of 2019, it felt like the beginning of a new chapter in New York basketball; could the Nets possibly eclipse the Knicks for hoops supremacy in The Big Apple?
Not so much.
After Durant missed an entire season recovering from a torn achilles, the 2020-2021 season held a lot of promise. In January of 2021, when the Nets added yet another superstar in James Harden, it felt like they had one of the best lineups in league history on paper.
Unfortunately for Nets fans, it was truly a paper tiger. Maybe if Durant's toe had been behind the three-point line against Milwaukee in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2021, we'd see more Nets hats than Knicks in the subways. But reality is cruel. The Durant-Irving combo combined to win one playoff series in their tenure in Brooklyn. And the only Nets gear you see in Brooklyn looks like it was handed out for free
Wednesday night, sitting in a press conference after his first game as a Maverick wearing a fisherman's hat adorned with peace signs, Kyrie said he was "praying for [Durant's] happiness" in the wake of this latest trade. You have to wonder if Irving was concerned at all about his friend's happiness when he chose to skip most of last season instead of getting vaccinated, leaving Durant to shoulder the load. Or when he created any of the never ending litany of distractions that fell on the doorstep of Durant in their time together in Brooklyn.
The good news for Brooklyn fans is the team received quite the haul in exchange for Durant and Warren. This is sort of the reverse from when they traded their franchise for the services of the aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett a decade ago. And to be real, there may be enough talent left in Brooklyn for the current Nets squad to be an annoying team to play against in the playoffs.
The Phoenix Suns were very close to winning the NBA Finals in 2021. Unfortunately, Giannis Antetokounmpo scuttled those plans, leading the Bucks back from a 2-0 deficit. Phoenix ran it back last season, but had their championship hopes very firmly eliminated by Luka Doncic in the second round.
This season, the Suns hold a 30-26 record, good for fifth in the Western Conference. Chris Paul has only played 35 games, and is averaging a career low in points per game while shooting 40 points below his career field goal percentage. Devin Booker just returned to the Suns lineup after missing five weeks with a groin injury.
Head coach Monty Williams and co. managed to keep the ship afloat. Now, they add perhaps the best scoring forward in league history.
Adding Chris Paul a few seasons ago was a win-now move for Phoenix. Adding Durant is a win-right-the-hell-right-now move. Paul is 37 years old. He's suffered late-season injuries a few times over the years, hurting his team's playoff chances in the process. Durant has bounced back remarkably well from his torn achilles in 2019. That injury could've been a career ender in a different era, but Durant has shown his game still translates when healthy. The latest MCL sprain seems relatively minor, and reports seem to indicate he should be back on the court sooner rather than later.
When Durant comes back, he immediately puts Phoenix right back in the conversation for best team in the West. This is not rocket science. He's one of the best players in the world, now getting to play with one of the best point guards in league history. That alone would be a compelling case for Phoenix. But add in Booker? The guy averaging 27 per game on 46% shooting? That is a truly dynamite offensive trio.
Mikal Bridges is a tough loss for the Suns. The 26 year-old forward is averaging 17 points and 4 rebounds per game, all while guarding the opposing team's best scorer in 36 minutes per game every night. He is one of the best two-way players in his age group in the league, and looks poised to have a very successful career.
But when you get the chance to upgrade from a budding star to a bonafide superstar - a guy who might be one of the top 15 players of all time? You gotta make that deal.
New Ownership In Phoenix
This tweet from beloved little guy Isaiah Thomas jumped out at me last night.
"Crazy thing is now that Suns previous owner is done. Phx will get more FAs now because everybody wanna be in phx anyway. One of the dopest places to live. Body be feeling good all year because of the weather LOL"
Former Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver was a notorious cheapskate. As ESPN's Baxter Holmes reported last fall, he was also an alleged racist and misogynist. Thomas's tweet seems to indicate that NBA players did not want to go to Phoenix and be a part of that circus.
Just this week, former college basketball player and billionaire mortgage lender Mat Ishbia formally took over the Phoenix Suns. Ishbia paid $2.28 billion for his controlling stake of the Suns. It's an investment, sure. But it's also the most expensive toy a billionaire basketball fan can buy.
If this Durant deal is any indication of Ishbia's role as Suns owner, Phoenix could be in for a radical shift in the way they do business. Gone are the days of penny pinching. Big spending is on the way in Arizona.
And if IT's tweet is any indication of how NBA players feel about living in Phoenix, the Suns could become a prime free agent destination in the years to come. While the Durant-Paul window will be a pretty short one, Suns fans should be confident that their team will be in talks to sign any top free agent who hits the market in the future.
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