Phoenix Suns don’t need Kevin Durant to win championship next season
Kevin Durant is a great basketball player running out of prime and never short on drama.
The Suns don’t need him to win a championship.
The two-time NBA Finals MVP would’ve been a fascinating addition to our sporting landscape. The trio of Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul would’ve been filthy and villainous, the most awesome NBA spectacle since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And yet his presence would’ve come with a certain cost, a loss of innocence, an invalidation of the culture that has been at the root of 115 regular-season triumphs and four playoff series victories in the past two years.
The other side of hard? Durant would’ve represented the other side of easy.
Granted, the reconciliation between Durant and Brooklyn is only temporary. It might give the Suns the time they need to strike a deal. The Suns are free to trade Deandre Ayton to 28 NBA teams after Jan. 15, pending his approval. And if Ayton has another growth spurt as a highly paid focal point of the offense, maybe the Nets look at him differently the next time around.
Maybe they trade Durant to Phoenix in mid-season. Maybe they fire up talks again next summer. Or maybe Durant finally loses the wanderlust and settles into the sunset of his career in New York.
Either way, those who believe the Suns have just squandered the offseason are badly mistaken.
The loss of JaVale McGee hurts. The return of Dario Saric helps. The addition of former Warriors guard Damion Lee comes with the hearty endorsement of Steph Curry, who is also Lee’s brother-in-law.
Devin Booker is still ascending and won’t stop until the top. He was humbled hard by Luka Doncic in the Western Conference semifinals. He clearly needs to be better closing out big games and playoff series. He also needs more emotional maturity, a young player too often derailed by rage and referees alike.
Finally, Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson are homegrown and still growing. They all bring a lovable, wholesome, youthful quality to the organization. They connect easily with fans because they are not overburdened by fame and ego. They must put all hard feelings aside, having collectively spent an offseason in the crosshairs, the subject of trade proposals and trade rumors.
In the coming weeks, the Suns will insist they had no intention of trading any of them. The organization will lean on semantics to help soothe feelings. But the damage has already been done, and if there’s a bright side, those three players are now well-versed in the business calculus of the NBA.
There are also NBA types who believe the Suns were badly exposed as a try-hard team built for the regular season. That requires a special brand of ignorance, fully dismissing the culture that collapsed underneath them, the factors that forced the bottom to fall out of the tub.
There was a COVID-19 outbreak after Game 5. One player tested positive after Game 7. A source told me that it was Chris Paul, a conclusion obvious to anyone who saw his lethargy and lifeless eyes over the final few games. One well-connected writer said the incident caused a great deal of internal strife.
There was also tension between Ayton and Monty Williams. Ayton likely broke bad after learning he was shopped at the NBA trade deadline, even though the Suns had the best record in the league by a mile. And there was a head coach who had a terrible postseason, outcoached in both series, lulled into taking McGee and Cam Payne out of the playoff rotation.
In retrospect, that was a terrible mistake. McGee and Payne were two of the team’s emotional touchstones and Williams effectively let Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd determine the chessboard. That can’t happen again.
But for the better part of two seasons, the Suns have been one of the best teams in basketball, built on a nucleus of growing stars. Their chemistry has been damaged and feelings have been bruised. But their ceiling has yet to be determined, and it’s high enough to win that long-awaited NBA championship.
Without Kevin Durant.