EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ new era built around bond between Devin Booker, Kevin Durant

Oct 2, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2023, 8:49 am

PHOENIX — As the man who first publicly unveiled Devin Booker’s new signature Nike shoe once put it, nothing was the same.

Outside of the face of the franchise, everything is different this year for the Phoenix Suns and it’s hard to look past that toward anything else as the takeaway from media day on Monday.

Head coach Monty Williams is out. Frank Vogel is in.

Chris Paul is gone. So is Deandre Ayton. Booker is the last remaining player from the 2021 NBA Finals team that came up short just 26 months ago.

It is the first full season for new owner Mat Ishbia and new CEO Josh Bartelstein. The same goes for Kevin Durant.

Oftentimes, change after great amounts of success can be a negative. But other times, it’s a necessity. The latter applies to Phoenix after two-straight disappointing ends to the season, which presents the question of what its foundation now becomes, a part of the transition most organizations fumble.

The Suns are a rare exception. They get to fall back on two superstars in Booker and Durant. That part of the equation is all well and good, but the secret to it and what will ensure the franchise is more than fine going forward is the clear bond the two have formed over this short time as teammates.

The story, on the surface level, is a good one. Booker grew up watching Durant. He had a Fathead poster of him in his childhood bedroom. “It’s a dream come true” is an overly used phrase for things coming to fruition that, in fact, were not dreams in the past. But this is actually what has occurred for Booker.

It was obvious the two were going to jell instantly, both on and off the court, given how they approach the game. They are kindred spirits, in the basketball sense, at the very least. The duo were seen together across social media at various points in the offseason and the link continuing to grow there is essential.

“Book is somebody that I really admire and I love being around, not just on a basketball court but just off the court as well,” Durant said. “So it was good to build as teammates. We’ve been around and hung around each other before as opponents but to hang with each other as teammates was a different feeling. I’m looking forward to continuing to build with Book on and off the floor as we go through this journey together.”

Again, these guys are the living embodiment of some tiresome clichés we hear across sports. They actually lead by example. The work ethic the two share puts those around them on notice and sets the standard, whether they realize it at certain moments of the NBA calendar or not.

“I’m just excited to see our relationship continue to grow,” Booker said Monday. “As everybody knows, I was a fan first and I’ve always looked up to KD and to be here firsthand now and get to spend time and grow that relationship is a full circle moment in life. We have a great deal of respect for each other and we continue to push each other.

“I know he’s always in the gym. He doesn’t take a rep off, he doesn’t take a day off. Those are the types of people I like to be surrounded with. We have the same interests, so off the floor is always a good time.”

The pair is a walking basketball culture. Durant told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke he loves the “nerdy” coaching staff the Suns have, noting the specific details that they pick up on as a perfect match for them.

And that’s something to not just gloss over after getting a good chuckle out of. Whether you noticed or not, everything the Suns achieved this offseason accentuates those two.

The entire weight of individual shot creation is no longer on their shoulders thanks to the arrival of Bradley Beal. A head coach proven to the championship degree of getting the most out of star players while establishing a level of buy-in defensively is heading the ship in Vogel. Phoenix prioritized a strong offensive mind to co-collaborate with Booker and Durant by making Kevin Young the league’s highest paid assistant.

The supporting cast is deep, in that it checks nearly every box of skillsets one would ask to have around those three, with multiple options for each subgroup. There’s on-ball stoppers (Jordan Goodwin, Josh Okogie), versatile, defensive-minded wings (Keita Bates-Diop, Nassir Little, Ish Wainright), shooters (Grayson Allen, Eric Gordon, Damion Lee, Yuta Watanabe), great screen-setting bigs (Jusuf Nurkic, Drew Eubanks) and untapped talent that could find its breakout moment thanks to the star power in a winning environment (Bol Bol, Keon Johnson, Chimezie Metu).

For a summer of required renovations to the makeup of the team, the Suns did a tremendous job. Now it’s about how the bond between Booker and Durant leads to winning, revealing itself on the court in a way where you would have guessed the two are close pals without even knowing it.

While we have begun to settle into our reality that Durant is a Sun, the on-court symbiosis has hardly started. Barely even gotten out of the gates.

Durant’s freak accident in pregame warmups forced Phoenix to expedite the process of watching things click into place. We never even got the satisfaction of hearing that *click* sound once. That’s what this season is about. Getting used to hearing it so much that we eventually are zoning it out. Everyone else will then follow and everything else will come together naturally.

Elite players have a way of making that happen sooner rather than later. From everything we know about these two, it’s coming quickly, and then the Suns will be off to the races like they’ve never been before.

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