EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns wisely swing for fences with historic Kevin Durant trade

Feb 9, 2023, 12:19 AM | Updated: 4:37 pm

Do you fancy yourself as a gambler? Are you willing to add risk to the equation and better your odds of reaching the end goal? How much does that change for you when things aren’t going your way?

Your answers to those questions will likely match up with how you feel about the Phoenix Suns trading for Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant, a deal that has them giving up Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap. The Suns will also receive T.J. Warren.

It is the Suns audibling on their promising future for an even more promising, albeit shorter, present. They gave up their heart and soul, The Twins, and a full war chest of draft selections to make it happen.

The price matches the precedent. A player of Durant’s caliber arriving in a trade with a fresh four-year contract extension that just kicked in this season has never really happened before.

To establish the foundation of our journey, the Suns reached the NBA Finals in their first year with the now-37-year-old Chris Paul two seasons ago. That was a resounding success. It was followed by a franchise-record 64-win regular season that made Phoenix the clear favorites for a championship, only to end in the most disappointing postseason in franchise history.

It is now or never for the title window with Paul. And given how unrecognizable the Suns looked against both New Orleans and Dallas in the playoffs, a shakeup of some degree seemed necessary.

That wouldn’t come until there were less than 24 hours left in the trade deadline, as opposed to the offseason. Hey, better late than never, as they say.

We have to consider 26-year-old face of the franchise Devin Booker. To be honest, he’s just getting started with what he can achieve. Selling the long term for the short term seems shortsighted when the best two-guard in the world doesn’t even have half of the chapters in his NBA career written yet.

And this is incomparable to the Paul trade, one that had its fair share of risk but didn’t have a chance of screwing over the Suns’ next decade due to a loss of draft capital, flexibility and young talent.

But, in the words of Patrick Beverley, it’s Kevin Durant.

Durant will become the best basketball player to put on a Suns jersey over the franchise’s 50-plus years of existence once he dons the purple and orange. I’m talking about both his current ability right now and where he ranks in the history books. He is one of the 10-15 greatest of all time, and he’s got a few more years left to pad his resume even further.

This is not a “Big Shaqtus” situation, the acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal in 2008 when his powers had already started to fade.

Durant is still in his prime and continuing to get better at the age of 34.

This season in 39 games, Durant is averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting an astounding 55.9% from the field as a perimeter player. Yes, I know the shock of his happening is still wearing off you and you think that is a typo probably. It is not. 55.9%.

When looking at true shooting percentage, a statistic that holds more weight toward free throws and 3s to best measure shooting efficiency, Durant’s at 67.3% this year. If we assemble the 167 times in league history a player has posted at least 28 points a night, Durant’s 67.3 TS% will rank first if it holds, per Stathead. The top spot belongs to Steph Curry’s unanimous 2015-16 league MVP year at a 66.9 TS%.

Durant is the best scorer the game has ever seen. I’ll hear out arguments, but not before shooting them down. At (a listed) 6-foot-10, Durant’s previously unseen amount of silky skill and talent with his size allows him to get his shot off at any time from any angle on any spot of the floor. His handle, shooting prowess and touch push this over the top before we even get into how smart he is while dissecting defenses. The dude is basically a basketball Gundam, an over-the-top, souped-up collection of attributes put into one player.

He has had 11 seasons with his true shooting percentage reaching at least 60% with 25 points per game or more, according to Stathead. The next closest all-time is LeBron James with eight, and only three others have done it at least five times.

Durant has made more than 70% of his shots at the rim 11 straight seasons, at least 49% at the midrange six years in a row and at least 38% for 3s nine out of the last 10 seasons, according to Cleaning the Glass.

He is also an excellent defensive player. Trust me, a lot of you are going to be surprised by his rotations and playmaking on that end. The Analyst’s Jackson Frank broke down Durant’s tremendous defensive work this season in a read worth your time to further emphasize how well-rounded Durant’s greatness is.

And when it comes to utilizing this when it matters, Durant is a two-time NBA champion and won Finals MVP with both rings. The first one featured him outplaying LeBron James at the peak of the king’s powers and the second was a rather uneventful sweep the next year. If you want to talk about any more stakes, Durant also happens to be the best player in the history of Team USA men’s basketball and has three Olympic gold medals.

He has, quite simply, mastered basketball and reached heights that only a few have ever come within reach of.

Durant is worth it. Good, we established that part.

To go back to the trade, maybe the point here is if president of basketball operations James Jones was ever going to have an opportunity to add a player near Durant’s level next to Booker for the remainder of the shooting guard’s Suns tenure.

I highly doubt another one like this was going to become available. There are only wrong choices when defending this team now, and with that, you cannot logically deduce the Suns’ odds of winning a championship the next two years are lower than they would have been if Phoenix kept its former core the following half-decade.

The cost was Jones ditching his core philosophical belief around the construction of a roster, predominantly built with an emphasis on depth and balance. Even with Deandre Ayton remaining and a few nice additions from the offseason for the bottom-third of the roster, that notion got hucked out the window as soon as the Woj Bomb dropped.

That’s not all.

Durant, through injuries to his Achilles (82 games), hamstring (23 games), knee (21 games) and knee again (14 games and counting) has missed significant chunks of the regular season the last three years. Paul and Booker just had their own spells out this year.

Any of those three guys becoming hampered this postseason would drastically reduce the Suns’ chances.

Then again, Phoenix already had limited options around Paul and Booker. For all the good Phoenix’s depth did, it absolutely killed them the last two times it was eliminated from the playoffs. Booker, in particular, just needed a little more from his supporting cast versus the Bucks and Mavericks to alter our current reality.

That, along with a couple of other observations we already covered, is why this makes sense for the Suns to pull the trigger on.

But.

They’re capitalizing off the exact worst-case scenario that could come for them. Durant’s exit was not pretty after last offseason’s shenanigans and now he and Kyrie Irving both suddenly departed in less than a week. The Ayton situation has been more of the usual up-and-down roller coaster, and now he’s the fourth option.

It’s all not going to be worth it unless the Suns hang their first championship banner. It is the biggest trade the organization has ever executed. So, by default, it’s their biggest gamble too.

You feeling lucky?

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