Bickley: Mat Ishbia, Phoenix Suns strike gold once more at NBA trade deadline

Feb 8, 2024, 2:13 PM | Updated: Feb 9, 2024, 9:31 am

Bad owners are like icebergs. They’re cold, they move at a glacial pace and they have the uncanny ability to sink ships.

Championships, to be exact.

That is no longer our reality in Arizona.

Thanks to the billionaire basketball junkie running our NBA franchise, the Suns did more than add fringe depth at the NBA trade deadline. They overhauled most of their bench. They shipped out four players, adding 1-2 rotational pieces, and serving notice to the rest of the NBA:

Thanks to owner Mat Ishbia, they will leave no penny unspent in pursuit of a championship.

The addition of Royce O’Neale is the jewel of Thursday’s reformation. He is a no-nonsense, unselfish, hard-nosed defender who can guard wings and power forwards. He was Kevin Durant’s teammate in Brooklyn, where he was described as the ultimate “glue guy.”

Meanwhile, David Roddy is a burly tank of an athlete, potentially giving the Suns enhanced rebounding, toughness and youthful upside. And the team also cleared out two roster spots for the buyout market, giving the Suns even more flexibility.

Granted, basketball experts were saying the same glowing things about the players the Suns imported last summer, including the four players they just sent packing: Chimezie Metu, Jordan Goodwin, Keita Bates-Diop, and Yuta Watanabe. Forbes even celebrated the occasion with the following headline in Aug. 2023:

“How the Suns Nailed their Offseason by Signing Yuta Watanabe.”

It didn’t work, but that’s exactly the point. After the Suns reported for training camp in October, Ishbia proclaimed, “I think we’ve got the best team in the league.” And after 51 regular season games, he wasn’t going to wait to be proven right or wrong. And on the one-year anniversary of a blockbuster trade for Durant, Ishbia and his team struck again.

Swapping out a large swath of the bench in February is not a common practice for teams with title dreams, but Thursday’s maneuverings clearly pump more oxygen into the room. Most Valley basketball fans were unconvinced the Suns were a championship contender in their previous form. On some nights, they looked the part and flashed the pedigree. On other nights, they seemed highly flawed and vulnerable.

Some of their struggles are understandable. Torrential turnovers and fourth-quarter meltdowns occur when you don’t have a point guard to steady, facilitate and organize. But their bench was unreliable and wafer thin, and collectively, the team had recurring issues of edge, tenacity and disposition.

Now, assimilation begins again. There are more new faces to integrate on the basketball court in Phoenix. But the Suns lost nothing they needed to win that elusive title, and in a best-case scenario, they snagged a slice of something they were sorely missing.

The alternative was crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, a dicey proposition at best. Thankfully, our new owner seems incapable of standing still or standing pat.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.


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