36 unbothered: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as Suns owner

Sep 24, 2023, 8:45 AM | Updated: Sep 26, 2023, 7:57 am

Mat Ishbia at a game...

Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia laughs during the game between the Detroit Pistons and Phoenix Suns at Little Caesars Arena on February 04, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.

He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.

Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.

A lot happened this offseason. NBA-wide, all eyes are on the Suns with massive change and great expectations.

So to keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 30 days away from Sunday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season.

Previously –

Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry

Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season

Kellan Olson: The best way to explain what Ishbia is doing is he’s accomplishing things that are obvious, but labeling it as such can be misleading, making you believe that means it’s easy. At this level of business in sports, it never is. There are logistical problems that are by default followed by financial issues with a lot of instances where we ourselves are saying, “Why don’t they just do that?”

Ishbia just does it.

Why not make games more accessible to our fans? Losing money in the short term? That’s fine. Why aren’t we trading for Kevin Durant? We don’t want to give up Mikal Bridges? The luxury tax concerns? That’s fine. Why don’t we have Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire in the Ring of Honor? Beef with the previous owner? That’s fine, he’s gone. Why don’t we have a G League team? We needed the money? That’s fine, not anymore.

It is refreshing not only from ownership here in the Valley but across the leagues in general. While reports do indicate a hands-on approach on the basketball operations side, which is always a nervy proposition with ownership, he seemingly does so in a collaborative manner. He’s achieved a lot already and we’re going to see plenty more get done over the years.

Kevin Zimmerman: We’re the back-half of last season plus most of an offseason into the new ownership era. Word has it this offseason still could have some things to throttle the fan base. Regardless, there remains change in the air — and the airwaves — with some no-duh decision-making. Fans rightfully should like Ishbia for all he’s done that probably took 24 hours of receiving emails to know they were solid moves. The how is more difficult and notably worth giving him credit for.

Moving into the 2023-24 season, the most fascinating bit is this: A roster is redefined under Ishbia’s leadership, a coach has been chosen. When sketchy waters hit this season leading into the trade deadline and perhaps after this year if a championship is not won, I have curiosities about Ishbia’s trigger finger. How itchy will it be?

Does he ride out his own past decisions too long? Not long enough? Does he get impatient if the Suns, say, bow out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals once again? He entered ownership having opinions that obviously were not about patience and letting the status quo get another run at things. But now that this team really feels like his, I wonder if being an involved owner at some point soon bites him. We’ll know at least, because the man gets things done when he wants them done. And that, for better or worse, is admirable.

Erik Ruby: What a seven-month stretch for Ishbia. The new governor of the Suns and Mercury has ingratiated himself with the Arizona community seamlessly by not only enabling the fans’ favorite NBA team to boast three top-tier players but also by enabling them to see those stars in action.

Ishbia’s impact will go well beyond this season. In fact, that might be the most exciting aspect of all this. You can look forward to this season, as you should, but you should also be thrilled that the days of having your owner actively distract/detract from winning have come to an end, and the opposite is now in effect.

Putting aside the future aspect of what his governorship can bring to the Valley and his Suns, this season will be quite the public test for Ishbia.

Will his aggressive team-building philosophy pay off?

If it doesn’t, what is his response?

We know Ishbia is all about winning. It’s what drives the former walk-on at Michigan State, and we’ve seen that mindset dramatically shift where this franchise is at in less than 365 days. He’s already gotten off to maybe the best start a new team governor has ever had in terms of ingratiating himself with the fans and community. If he helps deliver the Suns’ first ring in his first full season, his legacy will be cemented already.

Two more things:

  • Don’t underestimate how much his investment into the franchise will/has played a role in getting free agents.
  • The fan base should expand quite a bit with his shift to local TV and providing antennas for free.

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