Brandon Knight embracing role with Rockets after trade from Suns
PHOENIX — There was a bigger crowd of media members than normal waiting for the visitors at the Phoenix Suns’ Monday shootaround.
Three Houston Rockets players were returning to Phoenix for the first time since departing. That, though, is not the reason why the increased media presence was there.
Former Arizona State Sun Devil James Harden is on a historic run that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade and is the odds-on favorite to take home another MVP trophy. That, obviously, led to some interest.
Meanwhile, Brandon Knight was back in town.
Knight signed a $70 million deal with the Suns in 2015 and was former Suns general manager Ryan McDonough’s biggest gamble, one that did not end well for either of them.
Once Houston’s shootaround concluded Monday and players spoke with the media, bodies began to trickle off the Talking Stick Resort Arena court until it was only Knight and a Rockets coaching staff member left.
After he was done getting shots up, Knight spoke with ArizonaSports.com of embracing his situation on the Rockets.
“It’s been good just to be a part of something where the team is winning, being successful and striving to do even better,” he said.
Knight, of course, did not have a memorable time in Phoenix.
After he played 11 games following the trade deadline stunner in February of 2015, Knight had a rough go in the 2016-17 season. There were flashes of the near-All-Star he was in Milwaukee, including a 30-point game in Golden State against the Warriors.
Knight, however, could never get his proper footing and played in 52 games while dealing with an adductor injury at both the middle and end points of the season.
He couldn’t develop on-court chemistry with Eric Bledsoe, the dual-point guard system never meshed and when he got his own opportunities to run things, it usually went negatively.
When Knight came back the next season, he was sent to the bench in favor of Devin Booker. While Knight visibly and positively changed his effort levels on the floor in that role, it translated to the worst individual play on the team.
It was an incredibly shocking turn considering that while Knight had his doubters prior to Phoenix, he was still considered a fine NBA guard and one that could help teams win on both ends of the floor. As a reserve, he was anything but that. For a 24-year-old who had started 96 percent of his games up to that point, though, maybe it wasn’t as surprising as we thought.
The next offseason, Knight tore his ACL. Sitting out the entire 2017-18 season, he was traded on Aug. 31 to the Rockets.
Now, it’s clear that Knight is completely locked in on rehabbing that knee and trying to get back to becoming the player he once was.
“Not really much of a reaction,” he said of how he felt when being traded. “Excited to get somewhere [on a team that’s] more than likely gonna be in the playoffs. At the time it was exciting news. So much of my focus has been on rehab so that was really the main focus regardless.”
Knight hasn’t played for the Rockets since Jan. 11 but made 12 appearances over a stretch that began with his return to NBA basketball on Dec. 13. After missing time again because of the left knee, Knight has been available to play since Jan. 27.
Even with playing time tough to come by with Harden, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon ahead of him on the depth chart, Knight said he is benefiting from the Rockets’ culture.
“Just trying to work my way in where I can, where it’s best at,” he said of finding a role. “It’s good to see how we attack stuff, the mindset of a team that’s trying to win a championship.”
To no one’s surprise, trade reports are swirling around Knight like they have been most of his career.
He was dealt from the Pistons to the Bucks before the Suns acquired him, and they went on to ship him to Houston. Per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the Rockets are reportedly looking to attach a first-round pick to Knight in order to get off the $15.6 million he is owed next season, the final year of the aforementioned contract extension.
For Knight, this moment in his career is about taking advantage of his current situation, getting healthy and returning to the high level of play he once exhibited with the Bucks.
“Being around the guys, the staff — just seeing night in and night out what the focus is. And I think that’s nice to be a part of as I continue to work on myself and get back to the form I was at when I was playing my best, and that’s really my biggest focus,” he said.