Suns owner Mat Ishbia on Kevin Durant trade: ‘I don’t look at it like a risk’

Mar 8, 2023, 10:08 AM | Updated: 10:21 am
Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant listens as owner Mat Ishbia, left, speaks during an NBA basketbal...

Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant listens as owner Mat Ishbia, left, speaks during an NBA basketball team availability, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Mat Ishbia stood in front of Phoenix Suns employees and reporters on Feb. 8 during his introduction as the team’s owner and said he saw a championship roster.

By the end of that night, he’d helped broker a trade for Kevin Durant, a deal that for this season makes his vision even more true.

Trading Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, two pillars of the team’s culture, as well as four unprotected first-round picks and another swap option to the Brooklyn Nets put the team’s sustainability in question. So, too, did adding the 34-year-old Durant’s contract that lasts through 2025-26 and pays out an increasing total from $43 million this season.

“I don’t look at it as a risk, either,” Ishbia said of the Durant trade on Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta. “I look at it, like, this is the right thing to do at this time and we’re going to continue to try to win all the time.”

Ishbia, who earned his wealth as CEO of mortgage lender United Wholesale Mortgage, joined Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday before Durant plays his first home game as a member of the Suns.

Phoenix is already 3-0 with Durant and at 36-29 looks capable of ticking up the conference standings with 17 games left before the playoffs.

Expectations certainly changed with the Durant deal a month ago.

The Suns are the favorites to win the Western Conference despite currently sitting in the fourth seed. They are behind the Milwaukee Bucks (+320) and Boston Celtics (+320) in odds to win the NBA Finals (+440), according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“Listen, so I’m not a big championship-or-bust guy,” Ishbia said. “We want to win short-term, we want to win long-term, we want to win all the time. With that being said, the reality is this: There’s not going to be a year where we’re not trying to win.

“Is it a failure if we don’t win a championship? I don’t look at it like that.”

Ishbia called the first month on the job a “whirlwind.”

He added to the workload in reportedly dealing directly with Nets owner Joe Tsai to broker the Durant trade. A former walk-on at Michigan State, Ishbia has balanced leaning on president of basketball operations and GM James Jones while helping where he can.

The new owner has also been working to install a cultural change on the business side of the NBA and WNBA franchises. The teams were sold by Robert Sarver after an investigation found evidence of employees being bullied, accounts of sexist treatment of women and racist language used by Sarver himself.

Ishbia has done some turning over on the business side. He reportedly added Pistons assistant GM Josh Bartelstein as CEO as the replacement to resigned president Jason Rowley, who was a top lieutenant under Sarver.

Back on the court, the Suns and Mercury have thrown together what on paper look like contending rosters. The NBA squad’s trade for Durant in the initial hours of Ishbia’s ownership signaled his aggressiveness.

Ishbia is not worried about making noise despite being the new guy as an owner.

“I don’t back down from any of that. First of all, the owners have been nothing but great,” he said. “They’ve been great people, helpful, friendly, excited, even after the trade. I don’t feel that ripple.

“However, what I’ll say is this: We’re not afraid of causing waves. We’re going to do what’s best for the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury all the time.”

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